Commissioners Approve Conservation Bond Resolution

By Beacon Staff

Flathead County voters will have the opportunity to decide the fate of a proposed $10 million conservation bond in November’s election, after county commissioners agreed Thursday morning to place the bond on the ballot.

The commissioners’ favorable vote was unanimous – the required quorum to place a measure on the ballot. Commissioner Gary Hall, however, repeatedly voiced his reluctance to approve the bond request before casting his vote, saying he didn’t want to increase the tax burden on local citizens.

“I’ve been in great conflict over this as I realized that I would be the swing vote here,” Hall said. “In my mind, if we put this before the voters, it will pass. There is no question in my mind that that will happen.”

Last week, Moore Information, a polling company out of Portland, Ore., presented a poll to commissioners that showed 64 percent of county residents said they would support a bond of $10 million. Sixty-one percent of the polling sample said they would approve a $15 million bond and 58 percent would vote for $20 million. The telephone survey drew from a field of 404 likely voters and has an estimated 5 percent margin of error.

If approved, Flathead County could use the money to purchase voluntary conservation easements in which the land is left in private ownership, as well as purchase waterfront access and parklands. Other potential options are county-wide zoning regulations and the purchasing of conservation agreements by non-governmental entities, though this was the least popular proposition in the survey.

With a $10 million bond, a homeowner with a house worth $215,000 would pay $19 per year. Hall said that when a similar bond proposal came before the commission five years ago, he and the other commissioners denied the request, in part, because of their concern for the impact on taxpayers.

But commissioners Dale Lauman and Joe Brenneman argued that the survey and public comment have demonstrated enough support that the commissioners should allow voters to decide for themselves what taxes they’re willing to pay.

“In light of that support, I think they (the public) deserve to make that decision,” Lauman said. “I don’t think it should be three commissioners saying yea or nay and it dies.”

Lauman stopped short of endorsing the conservation bond, though, while Brenneman said he felt such a bond could have a positive impact if used to protect working landscapes or agricultural production, not just “preserving pretty views or those touchy-feely” issues.

A finalized resolution was not available for the commissioners Thursday, but one will be determined before the ballot.