On May 30, I sent one of the most important pieces of legislation of this administration to the Pierce County Council. The ordinance, if approved, would place a proposal on the November ballot for the conservation of farm, agricultural, timber, open space and recreational lands in Pierce County.
It is critical we do this now while our county is still rich in natural beauty. If we don’t, the things we take for granted will be no more than stories our grandchildren tell their children. It’s time to make sure our land is protected for the next 30, 40, 50 years and beyond.
To raise the necessary funds, voters would be asked to approve a property tax “lid lift” by a small percentage over nine years. The money would be used to purchase development rights and transfer development rights.
We don’t have the funds to buy the land outright. However, the lid lift would give us the resources to make a one-time payment to owners who would preserve their property in its natural state forever instead of selling to a developer. This would also keep the property productive and on the tax rolls, benefiting the economy.
The county has been purchasing open space for years under the Conservation Futures program. But it’s not nearly enough. We need a substantial sum to conserve more areas such as Snake Lake, North Shore Golf Course, the gulches in North Tacoma, Devils Head cliff on the Longbranch Peninsula, farms in the Puyallup Valley and our disappearing wildlife habitat.
Once these undeveloped lands are gone, they are gone forever. We need to make a meaningful effort to acquire as much available property as possible for future public benefit.
No matter how good the intention, there are those who will say this is not the time for a tax increase. Is there ever a good time?
Right now, money is cheaper than it has been in quite a while so the bond debt payment will be at a low rate. In addition, property is becoming more affordable. It’s possible to save land today that may be out of reach in the future.
But the most important reason is that we have no time to lose. It’s expected that 1.5 million more people will call this area home over the next 30 years. Landowners will be under intense pressure to turn their fields and open space into subdivisions. And who can blame them? An acre of new homes is a lot more profitable than an acre of daffodils.
If voters approve the lid lift, it will cost the owner of a $300,000 single-family residence a little more than $2 a month. Think about it: $2 a month to protect our future.
Pierce County is defined by its outdoor beauty, recreation and commerce. It’s why most of us live here and why thousands more are headed this way. It’s time to protect the natural areas and open spaces we have left.
John Ladenburg is the Pierce County executive.