Polk Commissioners Give Environmental Lands Vote A Go

The Polk County Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an ordinance to put a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot to seek voter approval to resume a tax levy to buy more environmentally significant land in Polk County.

Marian Ryan, conservation chair for the Ancient Islands Group and a member of the board of Polk Forever, the group formed to promote passage of the referendum, said after the vote that she was pleased with the outcome of the vote.


“We are grateful the voters will be given an opportunity to conserve more of water, wildlife and wilderness resources that makes Polk County so unique and such a desirable place to live,” she said.


The measure approved Tuesday would, pending voter approval, levy a tax of 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value for 20 years to either purchase and manage environmentally significant land or to purchase conservation easements that would protect large tracts of ranch and forest lands from being development while allowing traditional private agricultural practices to continue.


The tax would cost the typical homeowner $30 a year.


Opposition Tuesday came from Commissioners Neil Combee and George Lindsey.


Combee argued the time wasn’t right economically to ask for a new tax


Lindsey argued the proposed tax rate should be halved because it would otherwise generate more revenue than he thought was needed.

In reality, this is the first real opportunity local environmentalist have had to bring back a measure similar to the one voters approved in 1994 expired in 2015.

That’s because a series of other tax measures to raise money for indigent health care, school facilities and roads and transit had been placed on the ballot at successive general elections since then and the thinking that asking voters to consider two tax measures on the same ballot would have been unwise.

Additionally, it is hard to accurately predict future revenue growth and what opportunities might become available that would require adequate funds to accomplish.

Now that the future of the referendum has been decided, Polk Forever board members will be gearing up their campaign to persuade voters to support the measure by scheduling speaking engagements at civic clubs and other groups around the county, seeking campaign donations to support their outreach efforts and seeking endorsements.

For more information on the campaign, its goals and how you can support it, go to polkforever.com .

Environmental Lands Referendum Vote Set For Tuesday

The Polk County Commission is scheduled on Tuesday to consider a request by a local group called Polk Forever to place a referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot to ask voters to approve a tax to restart funding of the Polk County Environmental Lands land-acquisition program.

The vote will come following a public hearing at the meeting, which will begin at 9 a.m in the commission board room in Bartow. Supporters will be wearing green shirts to show their support.

If commissioners approve the measure, the campaign to begin informing voters about the measure will begin in earnest.

The proposal involves a request to levy a property tax of 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable property for 20 years to either buy environmentally important land or to buy conservation easements, which means the land would remain as private property but future development would be limited.

All of the purchases would involve willing sellers.

This would be the second referendum to seek voter approval for this purpose. Polk voters approved a similar referendum in 1994, which led to the purchase of 19,000 acres of land ranging from the Green Swamp to the headwaters of the Everglades. However, commissioners decided in 2015 to end the use of the voter-approved tax to fund environmental lands and diverted the revenue to other purposes.

Polk Forever, a local grassroots organization, is arguing it is now time to finish the job the first referendum started while the land is still available.

It is focusing on expanding conservation lands in the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern, the Lake Wales Ridge and other upland ridges throughout Polk County, the Peace River Basin and the Upper Kissimmee River Basin.

The organization has also formed a political committee to seek donations for the campaign.

For more information, go to polkforever.com