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Conservation survey approved by Benton County commissioners

Benton County residents' interest in conservation projects and their willingness to pay for them will be the subject of a survey in the next few months.

County commissioners on Tuesday gave the OK to move forward with the survey.

It won't cost the county any money -- a coalition of local conservation advocates will foot the bill.

"That will be out of the county's hands; it will be on our shoulders to take care of that," said Scott Woodward, one of the advocates, during the commissioners meeting Tuesday.

Woodward, president of Tapteal Greenway and the Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network, said the issue of conservation is timely because "the longer we wait, the more things go away forever."

He asked commissioners several months ago to meet with officials from the nonprofit Trust for Public Land about conservation financing, which involves raising money for protecting wildlife habitat, open space and land for parks and trails, among other projects.

That meeting happened in March. The land trust agreed -- at no cost to the county -- to examine possible financing options.

The officials returned Tuesday to present their report.

It lays out some potential options, including seeking a property tax increase or imposing the Conservation Futures property tax levied by several other Washington counties, issuing general obligation bonds, levying a real estate excise tax and formation of a metropolitan parks district.

Commissioner Jerome Delvin is concerned about a real estate excise tax, he said. He and other commissioners didn't commit to pursuing any of the financing options, but said they'd like to know what the public thinks.

"In my mind, anything that I would support I think would have to (go to) voters," Delvin said.

The land trust will find a pollster and work with the county and local conservation advocates on the public survey, said Dee Frankfourth, the trust's Seattle-based associate national director for conservation strategies.

The survey will measure the types of conservation projects that are important to county residents and how they might be willing to pay for them.

It's also expected to gauge how those priorities stack up against other potential proposals in the community, such as a criminal justice sales tax measure.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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