Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Temporary tax would protect land, water and wildlife

Nearly everyone who lives in or visits Blaine County will tell you that they love this place because of its delicate beauty and the direct contact with nature that being here every day offers.

Even longtime residents who should be immune to its charms marvel at the Big Wood and Little Wood rivers glinting in the fall light. They marvel at the sight of a rainbow trout rising to the fly or a bull elk majestically surveying his sage kingdom. In private moments they tell friends that when they drive to the top of Timmerman Hill and look at the spread of farms and ranches below, they know they are home.

So, voters have an opportunity in November to put a little money where their hearts are: in clean water, open space, family farms and ranches, and wildlife.

Passage of Proposition 1 would create a Land, Water and Wildlife fund. It calls for a temporary increase in property taxes for just two years. It would cost the average property owner $50 a year. Some would pay more and some would pay less depending on the value of the property.

The tax levy would raise about $3.5 million. There are several possible uses for the money. It could be used to purchase conservation easements in the Big Wood or Little Wood River valleys to help preserve wildlife habitat or migration corridors.

It might be used to create a market for transfers of developable density to keep family farms and ranches intact or with as little development as possible. Such transfers would mean higher densities in receiving areas closer to incorporated cities. Everyone—farmers, ranchers and taxpayers—would win because the density transfers would keep the lid on the cost of public services that can become exorbitant and a burden on taxpayers as a result of far-flung developments.

The money could also be spent with an eye to protection of water quality by protecting important wetlands.

The concept of a Land, Water and Wildlife Fund is untried in Blaine County, but Boise used a similar concept to preserve its foothills. It worked beautifully to protect an area around that city where recreationists share space with wildlife. Protecting the foothills from development also helped Boise preserve water quality.

The Blaine County Commissioners would control expenditures from the fund, guided by an appointed advisory committee and the public.

While voters may be tempted to hold the purse strings tight in this national economic downturn, it's important to look to the future and the things we value here.

Proposition 1 is a thrifty and temporary tax that should be easy to live with. Voters should give it thumbs up.

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