Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Levy panel considers new funding method

Land Trust proposes policy to allow receipt of funding after buying properties


Sheep move through the pastures at the Flat Top Ranch near Carey. Parts of the ranch have been placed under a conservation easement funded through the county’s Land, Water and Wildlife Levy. Express file photo

By BRENNAN REGO
For the Express

In order to snap up good deals when they're available, conservation organizations seeking money for land acquisition from Blaine County's $3.4 million Land, Water and Wildlife fund may soon be able to buy first and secure the funds later.

A proposal to allow that mechanism was made during a meeting of the county's Levy Advisory Board at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey on Thursday, June 21.

The board was established following approval by county voters in 2008 of a Land, Water and Wildlife Levy, a two-year levy whose funds are used to protect natural resources. The citizens board advises the county commissioners on conservation proposals and proper investment of the levy's proceeds.

Currently, organizations must first apply for program funds, then wait for the project to be recommended for approval by the board and county commissioners before they spend money. The process for the first project approved—a 1,114-acre conservation easement on the Flat Top Ranch near Carey, passed in late 2011—took almost a year to go through the pipeline.

By the time that process is completed, opportunities in a down real estate market may be lost, a representative of the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust told the board.

"Acquisitions may need to take place during a relatively short time frame in order to take advantage of reduced prices," Land Trust Executive Director Scott Boettger stated in a June 15 letter.

Keri York, the Land Trust's senior conservation coordinator, told board members at the meeting that "the typical situation for these sort of cases would be if a conservation organization could not raise enough capital by the time it is due."

"Could they take out a loan in order to secure the acquisition, then pay back that loan with [Land, Water and Wildlife Program] funding?" York asked.

Though board members said they would need assurance that this practice is legal in Idaho, they acknowledged that being open to such a mechanism could be a good idea in the current real estate market.

"These cases will come rarely," board member Trent Jones said. "If the project makes sense, we should consider it. If not, no."

Board members agreed to review the proposal at their July 5 meeting and decide then whether to bring it to the attention of the county commissioners. The board is a recommending body only; it will be up to the county commissioners to allow or reject this policy.

For more information on the Levy Advisory Board and to read a full copy of Boettger's letter, visit www.blainecounty.org and navigate to the Land, Water and Wildlife Program's page under the "County Departments" heading.




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