Voters showed up in droves at the ballot box to vote for environmental initiatives that will protect Florida's land and water for decades to come. Florida’s citizens realize that protecting special places takes effort and everyone has a part to play. Local dollars leverage state funds and strengthen partnerships between counties, regions, and across Florida.
Volusia County residents overwhelmingly re-upped two initiatives that will continue to fund conservation. The ECHO tax and Volusia Forever fundraising mechanisms were originally passed in 2000, and since have garnered nearly $200 million for land purchases and other projects. Volusia Forever directly invests in land purchases to safeguard water quality, while ECHO provides matching grants for initiatives that fund environmental, cultural, historic, and outdoor recreation projects.
According to the Daytona-News Journal, "More than 600,000 people visit ECHO projects every year." Additionally, the Volusia Forever program has protected 38,000 acres. Both conservation programs will now continue until 2040.
Melissa Lammers, past president of Halifax River Audubon and current board member, says, "Volusia County voters have reaffirmed their commitment to the environment and their quality of life by approving these two measures. In 1986, Volusia County became one of the first counties in the nation to tax itself for the purpose of acquiring conservation lands. This is a proud heritage that we uphold today. In approving ECHO, which often complements Volusia Forever, voters have made clear that learning about our environment, our history and culture, and having places to enjoy outdoor recreation are essential ingredients to a healthy and high-quality place to call home."
In Collier County, over 75% of voters approved an environmental land purchase program. As reported by WGCU News, the referendum "will place a small tax on property owners of 25 cents for every one thousand dollars of land value, or $75 a year on a property worth $300,000." Since 2003, Conservation Collier has protected 4,300 acres, and with renewed funding as part of the referendum passed on Tuesday, the program can protect thousands more into the future.
"It is encouraging that in the midst of political acrimony and the impacts of storms and the pandemic, voters in Collier County overwhelmingly agree that nature deserves our respect and protection. That is an outcome we all can live with!" says Brad Cornell, Audubon Florida's Southwest Florida Policy Associate.
In the face of rapid development, Manatee County citizens have voted to approve a tax of .15 mills on their property so the funds can be used to purchase and protect natural spaces and improve local water quality. The average homeowner will pay less than $30 each year, but the benefits to both the quality of life and the local flora and fauna are exponential.
Looking towards the future, Key Biscayne voters have passed the Sea Level Rise Tax, which will raise $100 million in bonds to improve resilience in the face of climate change. As the Miami Herald summarizes: "The island community is particularly vulnerable to the two feet of sea-level rise expected by 2060, as well as storm surge from hurricanes strengthened by climate change."