WACD Testimony on HB 1567 on Conservation District Elections
On Tuesday, February 7, 2023, WACD Executive Director Tom Salzer testified OTHER on House Bill 1567 concerning conservation district elections.
WACD testimony on HB 1567
Good afternoon, Chair Ramos and members of the Committee. For the record, my name is Tom Salzer and I serve as Executive Director of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts, representing Washington’s 45 conservation districts.
I am testifying today as OTHER on House Bill 1567. Some conservation districts are ready to move forward and a study simply doesn’t advance this issue soon enough. We had hoped that the district election language that came out of this committee last year would be re-introduced this year.
WACD supports conservation district election reform and has worked to find solutions that best serve district constituents and those who serve them. In 2021, WACD and the State Conservation Commission formed the Joint Committee on Elections to identify pathways forward for conservation district election reform. The JCE arrived at four recommendations which were later adopted by WACD’s members and by the Conservation Commission:
- Districts to hold supervisor elections every other year. This would reduce cost compared to running elections every year.
- Supervisor terms to be increased from three to four years. This would align district board member terms with the terms of other elected officials.
- Conservation districts to hold elections during a single “Conservation Month.” This would help the Conservation Commission and districts more effectively publicize opportunities for people to participate in district elections.
- Districts to have the option to go on the general ballot. Some of our members are ready now for their board members to be so elected. We recommend that the Legislature provide this option to districts.
One reason for the option to go on the general ballot concerns cost. The JCE heard from county auditors how variable election costs can be, sometimes requiring substantial resources. Conservation districts have no way to guarantee they can pay election costs because they do not having taxing authority, and so they are justifiably concerned about such costs.
The topic of conservation district elections first came to light four years ago because of wrong-doing associated with a different type of special purpose district. A study that looks only at conservation district elections feels to my community like they are being targeted. It makes little sense to them because they already receive strong oversight through the Conservation Commission. Perhaps it would be better to look more holistically at how participation can be encouraged in special district elections in general. Nevertheless, conservation districts continue to work on improving how their district board members are elected.
Wrapping up, the recommendations of the JCE should be considered in any legislation concerning conservation district elections. Similarly, the JCE recommendations should be incorporated into any study of special purpose district elections.