Thurston County government's Conservation Futures Program was created by the Washington State Legislature in 1971, by RCW 84.34. The legislature approved a County property tax to fund the program.
The program is funded through County property taxes. Funds are used to buy land or development rights, and funding decisions are made by the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC). See how County property taxes are distributed (link). In 2018, property owners in Thurston County paid 4.2 cents per $1,000 assessed value.
Thurston County began collecting the Conservation Futures tax in 1989. Per state law, Thurston County is allowed to levy up to 6.25 cents per $1,000 assessed value on each parcel. The levy is subject to the statutory limit of one percent per year. The funding, identified in the County budget as Conservation Futures, is set annually by the Thurston County BoCC.
The BoCC make the final determination of the funding recipients each year, but they appoint a Ranking Committee to evaluate applicants and compile a list of recommendations. The ranking committee is made up of representatives from other Thurston County government boards and advisory committees, and also from technical advisors from outside agencies and organizations, including from these Thurston County boards & committees: Agricultural Advisory Committee, Storm & Surface Water Advisory Board, Historic Committee, Parks representation (may come from city government). And from outside organizations including U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington Dept. of Archaeological & Historic Preservation, Thurston Conservation District, and Thurston REALTORS (or similar).
The Program's Strategic Plan outlines details about the programmatic vision and goals.
State Laws Governing the Program (LINK TO THE RCWS)
The related Revised Code of Washington (RCW) laws include: RCW 84.34, RCW 84.34.020, RCW 84.34.200, RCW 84.34.210, RCW 84.34.220, RCW 84.34.230, RCW 84.34.240, RCW 84.34.250
More Program History
In 1989, Thurston County became one of the first counties in the state to implement the tax levy and has been collecting it ever since. The Washington State Legislature first granted the authority for a Conservation Futures tax levy in 1971, when RCW 84.34 was enacted, and later amended in 1988. RCW 84.34.200 declares that the acquisition of interests or rights in real property for the preservation of open spaces and areas constitutes a public purpose for which public funds may properly be expended or advanced. RCW 84.34.230 declares the county may levy an amount not to exceed 6.25-cents per $1,000 of assessed value of all taxable property within the county for the Conservation Futures Program.
The Legislature decided that Conservation Futures programs are a useful method for counties to preserve land of public interest for future generations, and encouraged counties to use some conservation futures for salmon preservation purposes. Any county, city, town, nonprofit historic preservation corporation (RCW64.04.130) or nonprofit nature conservancy corporation or association (RCW 84.34.250) may qualify for Conservation Futures funds. The legislature also declared that up to fifteen percent of the Conservation Futures fund may be used for the maintenance and operation of any property acquired with conservation futures funds.