document filing fee to fund county preservation program

white river valley museumJust before the Thanksgiving holiday, the County Council voted to apply 100% of the revenue collected under “HB1386” to support operations of the King County Historic Preservation Program in 2011.

This action came through Council’s adoption of the 2011 Budget, and on this issue, the Council accepted the recommendation of King County Executive Dow Constantine in his proposed budget.

This revenue stream, created under House Bill 1386 in the State Legislature in 2005, attached a $1 surcharge on all documents filed with a County Recorder. The additional fees were earmarked specifically for use on local “historical preservation or historical programs…”

In King County, the filing fee surcharge generated almost $674,000 in 2007 when the economy was flourishing. In 2010, it has generated around $460,000.

The best and most equitable use of this revenue has been a subject of intense interest and lively debate within the heritage and preservation community in King County since 2007, when existence of the fund came to light.

Since then, the fundamental question has been whether this new revenue should be used to back the County’s established historic preservation office, or whether it should be distributed each year in competitive processes, through 4Culture, to heritage organizations, municipal preservation programs, and landmark stewards to support the work of the field.

On behalf of their constituents, the Association of King County Historical Organizations, Historic Seattle, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation took positions in support of equitable distribution to the field. They argued that the County should continue its 30+ year commitment to historic preservation through General Fund support of the County preservation office.

In October of 2009, the Council convened a volunteer task force to explore the issue in detail. The “Historic Preservation and Historical Programs Advisory Task Force” issued its report to Council in March of 2010, recommending a 40-60% split compromise between the County’s preservation office and distribution to the field through 4Culture. The report also included a minority recommendation for the opposite percentage split. It is important to note that both the majority and minority reports embraced the notion that some of the HB1386 revenues should support the work of the field, not just the administrative functions of the county HP program.

In the 2011 Budget process, however, the County argued that its current fiscal crisis necessitates use of the new document filing fee revenue, rather than the General Fund, to sustain its historic preservation office.

The future of the document filing fee revenue beyond 2011 remains an unresolved issue. Heritage organizations, local preservation programs, landmark stewards, and preservation and heritage professionals continue to monitor the situation.

Peeking in the magic window that reveals the hens sitting on their nests! Mary Olson Farm, fall 2007
photo by Patricia Cosgrove