Island County officials are looking at an amendment that might reduce property taxes for small, privately owned community gardens and parks that are open to the public, like Freedom Park at Terry’s Corner on Camano Island.
The state Open Space Act offers tax reductions based on current land use rather than the traditional “highest and best” use.
Currently, landowners with at least five acres of open space, agricultural tracts or timberlands can apply to have their land rated. The Public Benefit Rating System offers points that can lower their taxes.
The Island County Board of Commissioners establishes local criteria for the state’s Open Space statute. BOCC is re-evaluating whether to give the criteria flexibility for smaller properties of demonstrated public benefit, said Island County Commissioner Janet St. Clair.
An amendment to the PBRS would reduce the minimum lot size for community gardens from five acres to one acre and add community parks as an eligible category.
This could help parks like the 3.2-acre Freedom Park, where a 12,000-square-foot fantasy playground was built by the community in 2007. This popular park at Terry’s Corner is open to the public. Since the land is privately owned by Freedom Park Association, the organization is on the hook for about $1,500 in 2019 property taxes. The park relies largely on donations for $12,200 in annual expenses that includes utilities, insurance and maintenance.
Mike Nestor, Freedom Park Association board president, said he submitted an application for this tax benefit a decade ago but was turned down because the park was ineligible. If the amendment passes, Freedom Park could apply.
Planning commissioners gave the amendment full approval Thursday. Now it goes before Island County Board of Commissioners at the Dec. 4 work session, and possibly the Dec. 17 board meeting for a vote.