OLYMPIA – The first ever Annual Report on Thurston County's Open Space Tax Program is available. County Commissioner Bob Macleod suggested that the report be created as a service to the public to promote discussion of benefits of this special tax program to property owners in Thurston County. Each year, owners of timberlands, natural areas, and other types of open space can enroll their properties in the tax program, which is available through Thurston County's Development Services Department. The Open Space Tax Program provides tax breaks to property owners who forego developing their land in favor of preserving wildlife habitat, recreation sites, sustainable managed forests, and other natural resources for the benefit of the community. The purpose of the program, as established by the state legislature in 1970, is to provide "enjoyment of natural resources and scenic beauty for the economic and social well-being of the state and its citizens." In 2003, nearly 100 acres were approved for the program, bringing the total to date to more than 4,800 acres privately preserved for open space and small forestry uses. An additional 170,000 acres are enrolled in agriculture and large forestland tax programs, helping to ensure that the County's rural character and rich natural resources are protected into the future.
The tax program, which is voluntary, can provide an eligible property owner with a fifty to ninety percent reduction in their property's valuation, translating into significant property tax reductions. Applications are available from the Permit Assistance Center in Building One of the Thurston County Courthouse, or by calling 360-786-5490. Applications are evaluated by the Planning Commission and approved by the Board of County Commissioners after a public hearing. There are significant penalties for removing property from the program once it has been enrolled. The program is most appropriate for people with long-term goals of preserving the current use of their land.
Tax benefits are also available for farmers and larger-scale forestry operations through a separate program administered by the County Assessor.
Further information on the program is available on the county web site at - http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/permitting/docs/2003 Open Space Annual Report draft.pdf