Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Nature Conservancy: We are committed to replacing lost property taxes

From the Clark Fork Chronicle:

Editor's Note: Mineral County Commissioners wrote to The Nature Conservancy Jan. 29 expressing opposition to HB 14, which would convert former Plum Creek Timber lands to public ownership. The county leaders noted that public ownership would result in a net loss of tax revenue to the county, including $30,000 per year to the Alberton School District. The following letter represents The Nature Conservancy's response.

February 9, 2008
Mineral County Commissioners
Mineral County Courthouse
300 River Street
Superior, Montana 59872

RE: Fish Creek and Mineral County

Dear Commissioners:

Thank you for your letter dated January 29, 2009, expressing your concerns about the eventual ownership of Fish Creek. As an organization with decades of experience working in partnership with rural landowners and county commissions in Montana, we appreciate and understand your concerns regarding potential public ownership or Fish Creek and the related fiscal impact as conveyed to us by Chris Bryant. our western Montana director of outreach.

As Chris reiterated to you at your meeting on the 29th, we are committed to working with you and the residents of Mineral County to find solutions to the potential fiscal impact on your tax base that could result should lands in the Fish Creek and Nemote Creek areas be sold to the State of Montana. We don't know yet who the eventual owners of Fish Creek will be (state or private), so it's impossible to know the exact fiscal impact, if any, at this time. As Chris has stated, our policy is to pay property taxes on lands while under our ownership. We want to put the tax issue behind us so we can effectively partner with you on issues ranging from stewardship during our interim ownership to eventual disposition of these lands. To that end, we commit to coming up with a solution that mitigates the fiscal impact of state ownership – should that occur – to Mineral County and the Alberton School District. One model of such a solution could be similar to our approach with Powell County, which took the form of a lump sum payment from The Nature Conservancy that Powell County is investing to provide perpetual returns in the amount of their tax loss. Your county's needs and our project may require a different approach, and we will tailor a solution that meets these needs.

We are encouraged by your commitment to work with us through a yet-to-be-created citizen advisory committee. We have a long record in this state with community-based conservation, and we hope we can develop a strong working relationship with residents and organizations in Mineral County. This project is just beginning and will take years of work to successfully complete. We look forward to having you as a partner.

In terms of your position on House Bill 14, we hope that you will take some time to listen to the testimony of the dozens of loggers, ranchers. and Potomac area residents who see this project as a chance to keep their economy and Montana way of life whole. Given what is at stake for your fellow Montanans in the Potomac Valley. we hope you will join them in support of this measure.

Kat Imhoff
State Director

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