On February 26, the Thurston County Realtors Association was briefed by county staff about the current draft of the Habitat Conservation Plan, and the funding proposals. The estimated annual cost of the plan is $5.1 million, and involves fees and taxes of up to $42,000 per residential unit.
Olympia Master Builders, one of the parties to the pending lawsuit against Thurston County, has released a graph that illustrates the excessive nature of the costs of Thurston County’s Habitat Conservation Plan, by comparing it to the amount we pay for roads, schools, and parks. Gophers V. Schools, Roads, & Parks Graphic
Local activist Glen Morgan has also published an excellent summary of the issue, and outlined the outrageous costs and other problems with Thurston County’s proposals.
The Thurston County Commissioners in collusion with the US Fish and Wildlife Service have created a novel method of extracting additional tax dollars from prospective new homeowners in Washington State. According to public documents, Thurston County staff has proposed a new gopher tax, up to $42,000 for new homeowners who might consider building a home on or near land that might be inhabited by a rodent called the Mazama Pocket Gopher. This gopher tax (called “mitigation” in planner-speak) would be in addition to any other fees, permits, taxes, or other costs that might be imposed on the construction of a new home in Thurston County, Washington. For direct links to the concept files written and presented by Thurston County planning staff go here and here.
The $42,000 gopher tax is likely to become law later this year. Two of the three Commissioners (Sandra Romero and Cathy Wolfe) have been supportive of the plan and the process for many years now. In addition, the Thurston County Planning Department has been largely controlled by the US Fish & Wildlife Service for years – many of the county employees are entirely subsidized by USFWS grant money. This has been a concern of property rights advocates for many years because local county staff won’t question their orders from USFWS when their jobs depend on grant dollars from that federal agency.
Another aspect of the gopher tax that has local observers concerned is the current plan for much of this money to be transferred to an out-of-state nonprofit organization. Some of these gopher tax monies would stay in Thurston County, but it appears that after insiders get their cut, most of these funds would be sent to an out-of-state organization to manage local taxpayer-purchased land that could be set aside as bonus pocket gopher habitat.