The result of weeks of lobbying and education paid off Tuesday when the Polk County Commission voted 3-2 to allow a property tax referendum to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot to revive the Polk’s environmental lands acquisition efforts.
Voting to support allowing the voters to weigh in on this issue were Commissioners Martha Santiago, Bill Braswell and Rick Wilson. Commissioners Neil Combee and George Lindsey voted against the idea.
Polk’s Environmental Lands Program has been able to finance the protection of more than 26,000 acres all over Polk County since voters approved the original tax referendum in 1994. Some of the sites—particularly Circle B Bar Reserve—draw visitors from all over the world and have put Polk County on the map when it comes to ecotourism.
This year’s referendum, like the 1994 ballot measure, will ask voters to approve levying a tax of 20 cents per $1,000 of appraised value for 20 years. It is estimated this would cost the average Polk homeowner $30 a year.
Several referendum supporters addressed commissioners before the vote, giving reasons to move forward.
Some of the key arguments were:
–This will build on the foundation that has already begun to protect as much of Polk’s remaining environmentally important lands as possible before it’s too late.
–It will allow the purchase of lands to fill gaps and missing pieces in Polk’s environmental networks of wildlife corridors and other open spaces.
–This will create a legacy that will benefit generations to come.
–It will allow Polk County to leverage state and federal grant programs to stretch the taxpayers’ dollars.
–This is a decision that is critical to the future of Polk County as a great place to live.
In speaking in opposition to the referendum, Commissioner Combee—who actively campaigned against the 1994 referendum—argued that holding a tax referendum at a time of high inflation is unwise.
Although he mentioned the effect of inflation on consumer goods, he didn’t address one of reasons more environmental land acquisition funding is needed.
That is because the cost of buying these properties has increased along with everything else in the economy. That means it is important to be able offer landowners fair market value for their property during a boom period in which many of them also may have received tempting offers from developers and investors.
Add to that the pace of development occurring in Polk County that has already consumed thousands of acres forests, marshes and farm land.
The passage of the referendum will provide some insurance that Polk County residents will have a choice between more of the same and a greener future.
Now that the referendum has been approved to proceed, the real work is just beginning.
Polk Forever, the local group advocating for the passage of the referendum has established a website (polkforever.com) to provide more information, to seek campaign donations to its political committee and to schedule presentations to get the word out to the general public.
Don’t let the opportunity escape us.