Conservation Fund

Board date: 
Thursday, February 19, 2015

There is a proposal to create a "conservation fund" for the RDOS.  Basically, it is a pot of money to use for environmental purposes.  This would be helpful in cases in which the only recourse in a land use dispute is to buy property (e.g., the Kaleden-KVR dispute).  A recent news story on the topic can be found here.

The big question at this point is: "Are people willing to pay for conservation projects?"  In general people are all for conservation.  But when asked to pay they are less enthusiastic.  The purpose of this motion (which passed) is to allocate some funds to answer this question.  If public response is favorable it will be brought back as a referendum.  Or, if response seems VERY favorable, we will likely try an alternative approval process (AAP).  AAPs are much cheaper than referendums.

Some don't like AAPs because they seem sneaky (people have to find out about them and voice their concerns).  If you do have concerns, now would be a good time to voice them.  We are not interested in being sneaky.

Update as of 5 March, 2015 (passage of 2015 RDOS Budget):

A proposal was made to set aside funding the the 2015 RDOS budget to further investigate the idea of a conservation fund.  "Further investigate" meant:

  1. conduct market research in order to assess the public's appetite for this kind of initiative
  2. conduct a referendum (or AAP) in order to establish the RDOS service

 

The reason for (2) is that regional districts are not permitted to direct money to any new service without voter assent.  The reason for (1) is that would not contemplate holding a very expensive service establishment referendum unless we were pretty sure that the new service had significant support in the regional district.

I call (1) "market research" because that is what it is.  It is not just a simple survey with a simple yes/no question. It is a fairly involved process of determining the average "willingness to pay" for a conservation fund.  And before people can express their willingness to pay for a conservation fund, they have to know what a conservation fund is.  So there is a significant informational aspect (pro and con) associated with (1).

The problem at budget time is that RDOS staff allocated funds for both (1) and a full referendum for (2).  The total budget hit was $55K, which was a bit hard for some directors to swallow.  But this $55K figure is is a bit misleading: the costs for (2) would not be incurred unless the results of (1) were positive.  And if the results of (1) were positive, we would likely opt for an inexpensive AAP rather than a $30K referendum.  So the probability of actually spending the budgeted amount was very small.

The board voted instead to separate the two in order to make the contingent nature of (2) absolutely clear (see page 6 of the minutes).  We will conduct education/market research in 2015 for about $20K (still a large amount of money).  If people express a willingness to pay for a conservation fund we can budget for voter assent in 2016.  Again, my preference is for AAP rather than a referendum.  If we do our market research properly there should be little doubt RDOS residents are, on average, willing to establish a conservation fund.

The downside of this motion is that it spreads out a timeline a bit.  It will take us until 2016 before we get moving on establishing the fund (if we establish one at all).  But to me this seemed preferable than having the whole thing die during the last-minute budget horse-trading this year.

 

Comments

I fully support the RDOS setting up a conservation fund, the loss of the KVR through Kaleden being just one place where such a fund might have helped. If our taxes go up a bit to provide this, so be it; one of the better uses for our money in my opinion.
Eva

A resident has correctly pointed out that the proposed conservation fund is not just for capital projects (e.g., land acquisition) as I imply in my original posting.  As it is currently envisioned, the fund could be used to, for example, pay the wages of a part time conservation coordinator or pay for part of a study.

My bias is showing.  My preference for a conservation fund is NOT to build a pot of money to fund any kind of environmental or conservation activity.  Such pots of money have a habit of being spent.  My personal preference is that the fund, if it is created, be "balance sheet neutral".  The idea is that one asset (a dollar in the conservation fund) is exchanged for another asset.  Balance sheet neutrality effectively restricts the fund to large, long-lived capital assets or land (the ultimate asset).

But this is just my personal bias.  Keep in mind that no conservation fund yet exists and we have a long way to go to get one established.

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