County Council OKs $7M in bonds to buy parks land

10 projects aim to enhance open spaces, conservation

By Jake Thomas, Columbian staff writer

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Citing the rising cost of land and increasing development, the Clark County council on Tuesday voted to approve $7 million in bonds for 10 land acquisition projects intended to provide parks and open space while also conserving agricultural and environmentally sensitive land.

The acquisitions will come through the county’s Legacy Lands program. Since 1985, the county has used the program to partner with small cities and nonprofits to identify, purchase and maintain conservation projects. The program is funded through the county’s Conservation Futures, which levies a 4.62-cent property tax per thousand dollars of assessed valued.

“One of the reasons people want to move here and live here is because we have amazing parks, open spaces and access to natural areas,” Kelsey Potter, a member of the county’s Parks Advisory Board, told the council. She added, “If you do not act today, many of these properties will be developed, unavailable for purchase or much more expensive in the years to come.”

Over the summer, the county’s Parks Advisory Board recommended that the county use the program to move forward with 12 land acquisitions and easements that would expand public trails and parks, preserve wildlife habitat and natural resource land. However, two trail projects, one near Tukes Mountain and another near the Flume Creek Corridor, were dropped after owners of the properties needed for the projects told county staff that they weren’t willing to sell.

The $7 million bonds will be repaid over 20 years using revenues from Conservation Futures. Completing the acquisition projects will also require the county to successfully apply for $4.8 million in grant funding.

When asked about the impact on taxpayers by Councilor Julie Olson, Pat Lee, Legacy Lands Program coordinator, said he expects the bond to be paid off with existing revenue and that taking on these projects won’t require the county to increase the levy rate.

The only “no” vote came from Councilor Eileen Quiring. While she called it a “tremendous program,” she expressed discomfort with the county taking on debt.

“I think it’s more prudent for us to pay as we go,” she said.

Other members of the council also expressed concern about taking on debt but agreed that the county may not have the opportunity to acquire these lands in the future.

Parking garage

Also during the meeting, the county council voted unanimously for a resolution designating the parking structure at the Public Service Center a limited-use facility, meaning that it could only be used by people with county business.

The resolution was presented by Bob Stevens, director of General Services, who explained that the county has a growing problem of vandalism, car break-ins, homeless people camped out in the structure, as well as syringes, excrement and other debris left behind.

The city of Vancouver’s camping ordinance allows camping on most publicly owned property between certain hours if shelters are at capacity and previously applied to the county’s parking structure.

“It’s not a crisis every day, but it’s a crisis too many days,” he said. He added, “This simply gives us the authority to take action when we need.”

Stevens said that he expected the problem to get worse with the cold weather and he worried that it could impact the safety of employees or the public.

Earlier this year, the county made the Public Service Center a limited-use facility.