Nov. voters to decide on land buy tax for wildlands

Herald Tribune


CHARLOTTE COUNTY, FLA -- County voters will decide in the November elections whether to increase their property tax rates for 10 years to buy wildlands.

The Charlotte commissioners will ask the voters to OK a 0.5-mill increase, $50 for a home with $100,000 taxable value. Voters will also decide whether the county can issue general obligation bonds to pay for the land.

While the exact amount of the bond issuance hasn't been determined, it could be for $70 million or more, including interest. That's the amount of money the tax increase is expected to generate over a decade, said County Attorney Renée Lee.

The measure would help protect the Florida scrub jay and other wildlife, preserve sensitive habitats and safeguard the Charlotte Harbor estuary and water supply. Grace Amodeo, who chairs the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition Advisory Council, said that purchasing sensitive lands would also help the county manage growth.

"We're going to grow a lot better by having some empty spaces," she said.

The county hasn't developed the exact language of the ballot question. But the commissioners, who voted 5-0 Tuesday to hold the referendum, have made some preferences clear.

The revenues would be used only to buy properties from willing sellers. The commissioners said they want to buy some land outright and preserve some by buying conservation easements and using other tools.

Neighboring counties have passed similar conservation proposals. In 1996, Lee County voters approved a 0.5-mill tax to acquire and preserve sensitive lands. The program generated $18 million last year. So far the program has preserved about 11,500 acres, said Karen Forsyth, director of county lands for Lee County.

In 1999 Sarasota County voters overwhelmingly approved a tax increase of as much as 0.25 mills over 20 years to protect sensitive lands. The voters also allowed the Sarasota County Commission to issue up to $53 million in bonds for those lands.

Since then the county has paid $43.5 million to purchase outright or secure the development rights on 13,500 acres.



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