County Council Approves transfer of $1.5M from Conservation Futures Fund to Parks Improvement Fund

WC Council 2014 Last Tuesday’s Council meeting was full of important issues.  As many of you likely remember, with all of the hoopla over the Council taking over 8,800 acres of forested land in the Lake Whatcom watershed there was the discovery that the funds loaned from the Conservation Futures Fund (CFF) to purchase the Lily Point property had not been paid back.  These funds were loaned specifically for the Lily Point purchase while the County waited for the Federal grant money (which had been approved) to be made available to them.  It was written in the contract that the money loaned from CFF would be returned to CFF once the Federal money was received.

Fast forward again, the discovery was made public and brought to the attention of the state auditors who found that:

“The Council may choose to legally authorize to keep the money in the Parks Improvement Fund, or to return it to the Conservation Futures Fund as the contract subscribed.  The Council then voted 0-6 to return the money to CFF.”

Resolution designating the Parks Improvement Fund to receive grant proceeds generated by the purchase
of the Lily Point Marine Park (AB2013-050)
Failed 0-6

Fast forward some more, the Parks Department puts forth a presentation of the budgetary needs for the development of the park and trails for the Lake Whatcom Reconveyance (Pete Kremen Park) and within that budget they are $23k short for the purchase of a $40k truck needed for personnel to get around this property.

Fast forward once more, when the Whatcom County Parks Department comes up $23k short, the Whatcom County Council votes 5-2 (Mann and Brenner opposed) to transfer $1.5M from the Conservation Futures Fund to the Parks Improvement Fund.  

fish boatsNote to readers: Council Member Mann based his “no” vote on his desire to use the funds to purchase more park land.  That’s more private property taken off the tax roles and placed into the public domain as a liability to be paid for and maintained with more tax dollars.  When Whatcom County currently has more than eight times the amount of public park land than any other county in Washington State and more park land than we can currently afford to maintain with our existing tax rates, why would anyone seek more?  Remember the fishing adage of a fisherman who reels in the net loaded with fish who shows no concern that the weight of his catch will sink his boat.”

Presentation regarding Lake Whatcom Reconveyance financing options (AB2014-103)
From Finance and Administrative Services Committee: Motion carried 5-2, Brenner and Mann opposed, to request the administration bring forward an ordinance to replace the $1.5 million from the conservation futures fund into the parks improvement fund to establish a fund for the future maintenance of park properties.

Anyone else have whip lash from these events?  Do you wonder if the voters had any idea that there would be so much money accumulated in these special levies that the County Council would use them as slush funds to spend on pet projects? Why should this matter to the residents and businesses of Whatcom County?  Because everytime we place private property (an asset) into the public domain (a liability) we drive up the costs to everyone and shrink productivity in Whatcom County.  With the myriad of buffers and regulations that are imposed on public properties, that also has a detrimental effect on our ability to produce.  Ask the forester if Whatcom County has a viable Ag-Forestry program anymore?  Ask the farmer if their ability to produce as a small-medium farm is in jeopardy?  Ask the manufacturer whether industrially zoned land is threatened by increased demands to change their zoning due to these transfers?

I believe that it is time to put a sunset, or a ceiling and floor to special levy taxation.  When the Council believes that these restricted funds are open to their discretionary transfers (legal or otherwise) it is time for the voters to put an end to this temptation.

~ Kris Halterman

Direct play of Council Member Crawfords comments on “too much money in the Coservation Futures Fund”  Direct play of Council discussion to transfer funds WCC Discussion to Transfer $1.5M

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