Lewis County commissioners voted Monday to begin collecting an $8 per parcel property tax to fund the county’s Noxious Weed Board, moving the board out of its general fund.
The tax is expected to bring in about $300,000, which will raise the board’s funding by roughly 30 percent.
“Additional management needs to be accomplished to meet the growing threat of noxious weeds,” Board Coordinator Bill Wamsley told commissioners at the hearing on the measure. “A dedicated source of funding for the Lewis County Noxious Weed Board will be a key element to increase the level of management that is needed to make the additional contacts with landowners, for technical assistance and to achieve compliance with the week law.”
Though commissioners voted unanimously to pass the tax, the move was not without opposition, as former commissioner Ron Averill and a handful of other residents in attendance took issue with the move.
“You’ve got a tax which is really quite unfair,” said Averill, who is also a board member of the Lewis County Farm Bureau. “Eight dollars per parcel, whether I’ve got a weed problem or don’t have a weed problem, whether the property is 5,000 square feet or 500 acres. … You’ve essentially taken it out of the operating budget and thrown it into a tax on everybody.
Wamsley noted earlier this month, when the hearing was first scheduled, that the new tax will allow commissioners to stop paying for the Weed Board from the general fund, which is strained after several years of drawing from reserves. In Averill’s view, the move gives the commission financial flexibility but provides little additional benefit to taxpayers.
“Essentially your money is being used for enforcement and advice,” Averill said. “What are you going to give us other than telling us what we already know?”
Wamsley acknowledged that the board’s primary role is providing technical assistance and ensuring compliance (landowners must deal with noxious weeds on their own property, per state law). While the board still won’t have the money to conduct widespread removal or treatment of invasive plants, he said the boost in funding could allow it to hire another staffer to help provide more outreach and training.
Deputy prosecuting attorney Eric Eisenberg noted that while the tax is assessed on a flat per-parcel model, even those who aren’t dealing with weed problems on their property will benefit, making it fair for everyone to pay in. For example, he said. the pollen of Scotch broom can be bothersome during allergy season, and clearing it will help residents countywide.
According to Wamsley, 62 percent of Washington’s counties already levy a property tax to fund their weed boards.
“I think the rate they’re proposing and what the weed board has come to, it seems fair and consistent with other county programs,” he said earlier this month.
Still, a few residents complained that they’d been vigilant about pulling invasive plants on their properties, and weren’t keen to pay more taxes to be educated on an issue they were all too familiar with.
Commissioner Edna Fund noted that the tax will provide the weed board with a stable funding source, instead of a fluctuating annual allotment from the general fund and whatever grants it is able to secure.
“One thing about these dollars, they cannot be spent elsewhere,” she said. “It’s not like being in the general fund where they can moved. … I’ll guarantee you that this money will go just to noxious weeds.”
She also added that the tax could give the county leverage when it seeks to have the Washington State Department of Transportation deal with weeds on the roadsides it maintains. By levying a tax, county officials can claim to be doing their “part,” she said, pressuring the state to meet its end of the bargain.
“I’m confident it will pay off, but it’s going to take time,” said Commissioner Gary Stamper.