Friday, November 5, 2010

Tall order

It's been two years since Blaine County voters handily approved a $3.5 million Land, Water and Wildlife Levy.

Average property-tax payers generously agreed to pay around $50 a year to the fund, with bigger landowners paying more. The temporary two-year increase raised money to protect and enhance natural resources, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, protect water quality and preserve working farms and ranches in the county.

That's a tall order.

A volunteer board was set up to advise the Blaine County Commission on the levy. The board has developed guidelines to help identify how to spend the money.

Yet, despite public workshops, guidelines, detailed application forms and requirements for review, it's still unclear what the money may be used for.

Taxpayers placed their faith in the county commissioners to spend the money wisely. It won't be easy.

The advisory board expects the first expenditures to be made by April. That means that in the next six months, the commissioners are going to have to justify the faith taxpayers placed in them.

They can do that with transparency by ensuring that proposed projects are fully vetted in public hearings.

They must refuse to fritter away the fund on forgettable projects whose value to the public is questionable.

They must guard against letting this tax-supported fund become a loosely regulated piggy bank for private businesses or nonprofit groups. They must ensure that the money is used in easily identified ways to fulfill the mission of protecting the environment that residents cherish.

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