Our Voice: Open spaces one of our highly valuable assets

January 21, 2014 

People in the Mid-Columbia are interested in conservation. Possibly even interested enough to back a tax to buy lands for parks and open spaces to enhance our recreational opportunities, according to a recent survey.

Benton County commissioners are considering putting that tax on a ballot in the fall.

That's important information.

Even without the survey, we're certain that people in the Mid-Columbia are interested in the outdoors and open spaces and recreational opportunities. Just look at the number of people who climb Badger Mountain in a year. Or the number of people you see in our parks -- especially down by the river -- in the summer.

The survey sampled 400 people who are likely to vote in the fall election. Their support for the tax was 54 percent.

We're pleased to see an interest in conservation. It's an important part of a livable community. Recreational opportunities also are high on the lists of companies and individuals thinking about relocating to the Tri-Cities.

We are curious, however, how supportive voters will be when filling out their ballots.

Recent voter rejections of the convention center expansion and the aquatics center leave us a little leery of tax measures.

The measure envisioned in the survey would cost $11 a year for the average household, bringing in an estimated $950,000 annually in the county. The money would pay for projects from acquiring land for parks and open space, to preserving farmland and conserving wildlife habitat, to creating more recreational opportunities.

Perhaps the community is ready for this tax. Maybe it's unfair to weigh future hopes against recent failures at the ballot box.

We also hope people aren't hypocritical enough to enjoy a walk up Badger Mountain, but refuse to mark their ballot in the affirmative.

The survey was a great way to test the waters. A tax measure is another way to gauge support.

Regardless of the tax's success, Mid-Columbians are clearly interested in preserving the quality of life here. Other funding mechanisms are worth pursuing.

For example, what if stores catering to outdoor lifestyles invited their customers to round up their purchases to the nearest dollar and donate that money to a conservation fund. Or what if every time someone climbed Badger or used one of the other parks, they donated a dollar to the fund.

Electronic counters at Badger Mountain point to the hundreds of thousands of climbs during a year.

Of course the downside to this method is when you ask people to "opt-in," it is easy for them to reject the plea. Case in point is the state program that allows drivers to donate an extra $5 a year on their license-plate tabs to help pay for state parks. It was a small ask, but it didn't reap much.

Bottom line is that people are interested in conservation in the Mid-Columbia. We are growing, and we need to be smart about it. There is definitely a spark of interest. Let's keep that fire burning.

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