King Conservation District – Moving Forward
Why did the Washington state legislature create King Conversation District and is it still relevant today?
The legislature had the foresight to create King Conservation District (KCD) over six decades ago as a non-regulatory state agency that would work directly with private landowners to care for the land and resources. Today, KCD continues to fill a vital role in stewardship – helping farmers and other landowners voluntarily preserve and enhance our natural resources through cost-sharing, education and technical assistance that ensures the high quality of life King County residents’ treasure. And, with escalating budget challenges impacting the County’s capacity to serve the rural areas coupled with increasing regulatory demands on landowners for environmental fixes, the support and services of KCD are ever more critical not only to the rural residents, farmers and foresters, but equally critical to rural and urban cities that are coping with surface water, shoreline and local food issues.
KCD serves a unique purpose: engage the private sector in preserving and enhancing our natural environment across the region. KCD accomplishes this by helping private landowners learn how to best care for the land and resources. This voluntary engagement compliments the regulatory aspects of other government entities. Given that private land is more than 60% of the whole, and given the budget challenges ahead, KCD’s mission and mandate are increasingly important. KCD’s role as a non-regulatory conservation entity is a critical piece in the region’s natural resource mosaic. Its ability to work cooperatively with landowners using only “carrots” compliments the regulatory landscape’s “sticks” and puts KCD in a position of trust with landowners that promotes innovation and commitment.
Why is this assessment funding managed by KCD?
The special assessment was prompted by the legislature’s intent to structure conservation dedicated funding that would withstand, the multiple pressures plaguing political jurisdictions over time. The funding structured to support conservation district works allows activities across jurisdictional boundaries and so better addresses regional needs. KCD funds raised at the local level can be spent throughout the District regardless of the source, unlike individual jurisdictional funds. This fiscal flexibility allows KCD to partner and leverage in ways that are difficult if not impossible for individual jurisdictions and enables KCD to be an effective resource in improving environmental quality in the rural areas that in turn protects city properties.
Hasn’t the federal and state government dedicated significant resources to environmental improvements?
Federal and even State resources for natural resource protection are drying up. Increasingly in is expected that this mandate will fall on the shoulders of local governments. Those agencies with the vision, foresight, and opportunity to adequately fund regional and cross-jurisdictional environmental efforts will be well-positioned to meet the expectations of their citizenry moving into a future of diminished external financial support. We are truly fortunate here in King County: A legacy of high expectations for conservation has laid the foundation for future commitment to the regional environment. There is a strong baseline here with the current established system that is supported by the constituents – this is a relatively unique advantage that we all feel responsible for protecting and enhancing.
Why hasn’t KCD proposed a revenue neutral budget?
In fact, KCD’s proposed budget is beyond revenue-neutral. For the last twelve years, KCD has operated on a fixed revenue stream that is below the optimal amount for its operations and programs and services.
The assessment level has remained a constant, nominal amount of $10/parcel since 2006. Under the new rates and charges system, the budget to adequately fund both its core programs and services and assist its partners in landowner stewardship activities is even less per parcel.
At this modest charge per parcel, we would have a consistent source of funding for resource conservation across the region both for the KCD’s core programs, for those existing programs partners have been able to implement through KCD grant funding and for new needs that are emerging because of funding shortfalls.
KCD’s mandate is to engage the private sector in conservation stewardship individually and collectively. This mission compliments and augments the regulatory programs. KCD has been able to accomplish its mandate through its partnerships with cities, communities, non-governmental organizations and other conservation districts and agencies, as well as with KCD’s direct core programs.