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M34-269 would protect county's natural resources

There are many tough decisions to be made on this year’s ballot. A nail biter of a Hillsboro mayoral race, the controversial Measure 97 and two massively unpopular candidates for president will spark major debate around dinner tables over the next few weeks as people fill out their ballots.

But Measure 34-269 won’t, and it’s easy to see why.

Commonsensical and obvious, this measure should be an easy decision for voters, no matter where they land on the political spectrum.

The measure, which would impose a permanent tax rate on property owners of 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, would help support and expand the operations of Tualatin Soil & Water Conservation District, a small and seldom talked about agency that works to protect streams and soil quality in Washington County.

For 60 years, the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District has had one goal: to protect the county’s natural resources. It makes sure Washington County has clean water in its streams, protects fish and wildlife, boosts the health of our soil, and in turn, works to strengthen the county’s forestry and agricultural industries.

It’s not a regulatory agency, but instead relies on partnerships with local farmers, private property owners and businesses to improve both the environment and the farmers’ bottom lines.

Some of its successes can already be seen, with salmon returning to Gales Creek, and river otter, beavers and native fish growing in number in and along the Tualatin River.

TSWCD primarily serves rural and agricultural areas, but as Washington County continues to grow, the district is being asked to do more and more work in urban and forested areas, places it doesn’t currently have the funding to go.

The levy would allow the district to expand its operations in rural farmland areas, move into urban areas, and work with more farmers and benefit forests throughout the county.

For its entire existence, the organization has operated without stable funding, relying on short one- and two-year grants for much of its budget, something that’s not sustainable if the agency wants to make lasting changes county-wide.

It’s not a sexy measure, but Measure 34-269 gets at the very fundamental needs of Washington County: Residents want to know that their water is clean and safe. Farmers need good soil in order to continue growing healthy food. Washington County’s big businesses, such as Intel, need high-quality water for their manufacturing.

The only complaint we have is that the measure isn’t as cheap as we’d like it, but taxing up to 9 cents per $1,000 of assessed value means that the average homeowner in Washington County would pay less than $18 per year.

The district has said it will not be taxing the full amount for the first five years as it slowly expands its work, making the added tax burden easier to swallow for low-income property owners.

Further, because the district’s measures have focused on such relatively low-tech measures as tree planting and weed removal, its efforts have saved area residents from much more expensive remedial measures proposed by other agencies.

This kind of levy has worked in other areas. Indeed, voters in Multnomah, Clackamas, Yamhill, Columbia and Marion counties have all passed similar measures at similar costs for their local soil and water districts in years past, and have seen great benefits to local water quality and soil health.

“This is something we should already be doing,” the district’s director, John McDonald told the editorial board last week, and we agree.

There is no organized opposition to

this measure, and there shouldn’t be. It’s

an easy sell. Vote “yes” on Measure