tUproar prompts council to abandon asking Land Bank for $2 million
Turns out the idea of using the Land Bank as leverage proved too hot to handle.
So the San Juan County Council last week set its sights on the multi-million dollar road fund instead. Road revenue, the council agreed at its May 13 meeting, will be the financial backstop that hopefully will convince state officials of the county’s commitment in fulfilling its obligation for managing water runoff in the Eastsound urban growth area.
Without such a commitment, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board had been poised to declare the urban growth boundaries invalid and the county out of compliance with state planning guidelines. The result, according to county officials, would likely have been a ban on building permits.
Councilman Rich Peterson, chairman of the council’s stormwater subcommittee, said that council members were inundated with objections after the Land Bank’s stewardship fund was targeted four weeks ago as the source of a $2 million inter-fund loan which would cover the cost of six years worth of stormwater improvements in Eastsound.
The council opted to avoid a tug-of-war over the use of Land Bank funds by withdrawing its request, Peterson said.
“All of us got considerable feedback and there was enough discord about it we decided it would be better to let it go,” he said.
Last year, roughly $350,000 was drawn from the fund, which covers costs of managing, maintaining and improving properties purchased by publicly-owned conservation agency. But, he said, the volume of criticism raised by islanders and by Land Bank officials prompted the council to pursue option B, the road fund.
According to Land Bank Director Lincoln Bormann, department staff and its board of directors fear the agency, which must be renewed periodically by voters, and its image could suffer if money meant for conservation, even if never tapped, is made available for other uses. Such a loan, he noted, would also set a precedent.
“Even if it’s painless this time, the question then becomes, ‘where do you draw the line?’, the next,” Bormann said.
Public Works Director Jon Shannon is confident the council will find a palatable way to finance stormwater projects and that little if any impact awaits the road fund. The average daily balance of the fund has been about $3.5 million in recent years.
“We don’t anticipate needing the money but my position all along is that if we actually do we would be in big trouble,” Shannon said. “I think we’ll be alright.”
In the meantime, road revenue, generated through local property taxes and state and federal grants, will act as a “line of credit” and last resort for financing the improvements slated for Eastsound.
“I think all of us accept the notion that if we have to get some money through a loan it would be a short-term thing and it would be paid back, along with interest, fairly quickly,” Peterson said.