Today’s Parks & Seattle Center Committee featured a presentation on Current Use Taxation (CUT) program. In the year and a half I’ve chaired the committee, only three Seattle property owners have applied for the program. This is a lost opportunity for many. The County-wide CUT program benefits both property owners and the City, as it contributes to fulfilling the City’s open space goals in the Comprehensive Plan. The property owner –who retains control of the land — saves now on property taxes.
The program isn’t widely-known, so I’m hoping to raise awareness to enable more of our residents to earn this benefit while doing their neighbors, and the community on the whole, a great service. Perhaps you have some land within the City limits that you’d like to dedicate as open space; CUT gives you chance to do good for your neighborhood and save some money in the process.
Under the CUT program, an owner of qualifying land can set some of it aside — generally a minimum of .5 acre — as open space. In doing so, the land is dedicated for the public’s benefit, and in exchange the donor gets a reduction in property taxes. When we talk about open space, we mean just that – unencumbered, open space without structures. No patios, no driveways, no garages. It could be a yard that backs up onto a city park, or perhaps bordering a greenbelt or stream. Or, it could be land that offers habitat, view corridors, or preserves a bit of history.
As allowed under state law, King County adopted a series of regulations known as the Public Benefit Rating System (PBRS). The system utilizes a set of criteria and assigns a point value for each criterion. For example, if the property qualifies as a significant wildlife or salmonid habitat, the property earns five points. A surface water quality buffer earns five points, and accessibility by the public (perhaps as part of a trail linkage or view corridor) earns a variable number of points. The property we approved this morning was smaller than most, but it has historic significance in the dense Queen Anne neighborhood.
Each application to the program is rated, and if approved, the reduction in taxes is based upon the total number of points earned by an individual property.
Although the goal is to preserve natural resources and scenic beauty, there is not a requirement that the property be open to the public. The key consideration is that the owner must agree to retain the property as open space. The property owner negotiates what is called a Controls and Incentives Agreement as part of the process. It binds the property owner – this isn’t a temporary status that can just be rescinded at will. Should owners or heirs change their minds and want to develop the property or use it for other than open space, back taxes, interest and some financial penalties are incurred.
The Parks Committee of the City Council acts as the granting authority if the property is located within city limits. Once we make a decision, the application is forwarded to the King County Council to allow that body to make a decision in accordance with State law.
Our committee briefing on the CUT program is available via on-demand video at Seattle Channel and the discussion begins at the 14-minute mark. The applicant who was awarded this designation today stated that the process was not arduous.
If you’d like more information about the program, you can also visit http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/stewardship/sustainable-building/resource-protection-incentives.aspx
The Open Space Taxation Act information provides a helpful background, too.