Taylor says land swap will hurt cash-strapped counties
A major land exchange between the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources worries 15th District Rep. David Taylor, who said the rural counties where the lands are being swapped would suffer financially as thousands of acres are taken off local tax rolls.
The deal, which affects land in five Eastern Washington counties, was announced recently by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.
“In addition to the financial hit to local governments, what’s equally disturbing is the fact that this land deal was hammered out without the collaboration of the counties’ elected officials,” said Taylor, who has sponsored a measure (HB 2491) which would require the state Parks and Recreation Commission, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Natural Resources to coordinate their land-use plans with all applicable local government officials.
The bill is under consideration in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
The DFW/DNR land-swap agreement affects properties held by the two departments in Yakima, Klickitat, Kittitas, Okanogan and Asotin counties. The agreement authorized the Department of Fish and Wildlife to transfer 12,424 acres of high-elevation forestland to the Department of Natural Resources in exchange for 25,849 acres of shrub-steppe and low-elevation forest lands.
When lands are transferred to the Department of Fish and Wildlife from another agency, it removes the requirement that the department make PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) to the county where the land is located.
Land owned by the state government is generally not subject to county property taxes, but the Department of Fish and Wildlife makes in-lieu tax payments to counties on property it owns and manages there. The PILT is often equivalent to what the counties would receive if the property was privately owned and held in open space classification for agriculture or forestry.
“Because of the recession and budget cuts, governments in many rural areas have had to trim staff or scale back services, and the loss of funds that would result from this land exchange will make their budget problems worse,” Taylor said.
Another Taylor proposal, House Bill 2501, would allow counties to waive PILT if the Department of Fish and Wildlife allows grazing on agency-managed lands. The bill is due for a vote soon in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Taylor said the measure would benefit the department, counties and ranchers, as well as hometown economies.
Taylor also is the co-sponsor of a bill (SHB 2485) that would require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to minimize the disproportionate geographic impacts of its land purchases by ensuring that it does not acquire more – on average – than 10 percent of its total purchases in any one county over a five-year period. Additional acreage could be acquired by the agency with approval of the county in which the land is located. The bill cleared the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Jan. 28.
For more information, contact: Bill Taylor, Senior Information Officer: (360) 786-7074
###Washington State House Republican Communications