Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Washington County weighs land protection ballot vote

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

Woodbury, Minn. — Voters in Washington County will decide Nov. 7
whether they want to increase their property taxes in exchange for
the “preservation of water quality, woodlands, and other natural
areas” within the county.

The ballot initiative, if approved, would ramp up county
spending by $20 million for land acquisition and permanent
preservation agreements. Combined with funds those dollars would
leverage, the county expects to protect between 1,200 and 5,000
acres.

“I like to quote Will Rogers on that one,” said Dick Stafford, a
commissioner who represents the county’s Fifth District. “He’s the
one who said, ‘God keeps making people, but He’s not making any
more land.’ ”

Indeed, between 1990 and 2000, the county’s population increased
by 38 percent, or about 55,000 people, and it’s expected to add
another 100,000 people by 2020, according to county figures.

A good chunk of the growth is expected along the county’s
waterways and recreational areas. The money would be used to
protect land in those places. Protection of water is particularly
important, officials say, because the vast majority of the county’s
drinking water comes from groundwater.

“It’s a balance,” said Cordelia Pierson of the Trust for Public
Land. “The county wants to see the three legs: water quality,
habitat, and parks.”

TPL works with communities across the nation to devise ways to
raise money to conserve natural areas, and has been working with
Washington County for a couple of years.

The referendum purposes, according to TPL, would include
improving the water quality of lakes, rivers, and streams;
protecting drinking water sources; purchasing and protecting
parklands; preserving wetlands and woodlands; protecting land along
water bodies from development; and improving wildlife and fishing
areas.

“Washington County is one of the fastest-growing counties in the
state,” said Dorian Grilley, a Mahtomedi resident and member of
Washington County Citizens for Land and Water, a group advocating
for the measure. “If some strategic investments are not made now,
the land may not be there to protect in the near future.”

In the past 10 years, similar bond measures have passed in 15 of
19 instances, including one in Dakota County in 2002. The cities of
Andover and Plymouth also will have a similar referendum next
month.

The Washington County proposal would cost taxpayers about $12
per year for 10 years for each $100,000 in property value.
Agricultural land and seasonal properties would be exempt from the
tax.

A similar referendum was narrowly defeated in Washington County
in 2000, largely because the tax also would have applied to
agricultural land, Stafford said.

The money would add to the county’s existing, though limited,
land protection program. Since it began in 2000, seven projects
have led to the protection of just more than 200 acres.

The $20 million, and any matching funds – officials expect to
match every county dollar with $3 to $4 worth of outside money –
would be overseen by a citizens advisory committee and subject to
an annual audit. The money would be targeted to areas that would
improve and protect open space, Stafford said.

“Ten acres on an island somewhere wouldn’t do us much good,” he
said.

Rather, it would be spent to conserve land along places like
trails, hunting areas, water bodies, and wetlands, Stafford
said.

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