Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner hinted on Tuesday that his office may be willing to lend the money needed to buy and keep 48 acres of pristine land in the Latah Valley.
Spokane area leaders and conservation groups are interested in saving farmland from residential development, but so far have not been able to raise the capital to purchase it.
The property currently sits at a proverbial crossroads in the road – it either be divided into 94 residential lots, or be kept.
Landowner John Pilcher nominated the property for a grant from the Spokane County Conservation Futures Program at the request of the City of Spokane in 2016, but sufficient funding was not raised to purchase it.
After The Spokesman-Review documented the enigma of development or conservation a story published on Tuesday, Baumgartner released a statement proposing the Spokane Public Investment Fund as a potential solution.
The Spokane Public Investment Fund dedicates part of its $ 1.3 billion pool to finance local government projects.
“The High Drive Bluff Natural Area is a treasure for our community and something we must protect,” Baumgartner said in a statement. “We currently have a capacity of about $ 100 million for local loans for good public projects. Helping finance the purchase of this area would only be a tiny fraction of our fund and I would be very interested to consider. “
Even if a loan is available, it is not known if it would make conservation a safe bet.
The property has been on two tracks since 2016, when Pilcher proposed the development of 94 lots, but also applied for a grant from Conservation Futures.
The Conservation Futures program placed the property fifth on its priority list in 2016. It has already purchased the top four but has not been able to finance the acquisition of the Pilcher property.
The program has relied on the treasurer’s office for short-term loans to purchase properties in the past, including the 231-acre Etter Ranch property south of the Antoine Peak Conservation Area in 2019 for $ 2 million. .
Paul Knowles, director of special projects for the county parks department, said the program is due to be paid off all of its existing debts by early 2022. Being debt free is an attractive prospect as the county is expected to receive a loan. list of new conservation proposals later this year.
Land prices have increased about 6% per year, Knowles added, but the fund’s property tax revenue is capped at an annual increase of 1%. To add new properties to its list of conservation efforts, the program will need to minimize its debts.
“We appreciate his offer, but we need to look at what’s best for the program,” Knowles said.
The town of Spokane is also interested in retaining the property, but has failed to purchase it. In a February letter to Pilcher, Spokane County Parks and Recreation Director Garrett Jones charted a path for town ownership that included reliance on Conservation Futures dollars and would not end. not before 2023.
Pilcher, through his lawyer, suggested that it might already be too late.
“The property appears to be an important community asset, and we generally like the idea that it can be preserved. We have demonstrated our commitment to a public purchase by keeping the property off the market and have participated in dozens of conversations about how such a purchase might come about, ”Pilcher’s lawyer Taudd Hume previously wrote. , in an email to The Spokesman-Review. .