An update from Volusia.org
Nearly 20 years to the day after Volusia County voters agreed to tax themselves to fund land preservation efforts and recreational, cultural and historic facilities, local voters will be going back to the polls to decide if they want the programs to continue for another 20 years.
Volusia County Residents Vote to Decide on the Fate of the ECHO and Volusia Forever Programs in November
With Volusia County’s ECHO and Volusia Forever programs set to expire, the Volusia County Council on Tuesday decided to ask voters whether they want to renew them after hearing from supporters of the programs. The original referendum approving the programs took place on Nov. 7, 2000, with Volusia Forever getting 61.3% support and ECHO getting 57.5% support.
The new referendum to decide whether the programs will continue is slated to take place during this fall’s general election on Nov. 3.
The ECHO program provides grant funds to finance acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of facilities for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational purposes. The Volusia Forever program finances the acquisition and improvement of environmentally sensitive, water resource protection and outdoor recreation lands that are being managed by the county as conservation stewards in perpetuity.
To fund the programs, the original voter mandate authorized property taxes of up to 1/5 of a mill each for each program for 20 years. Combined, the programs have funded nearly 300 projects around the county. If the programs aren’t renewed, the tax for both would sunset next fiscal year.
Before unanimously agreeing to put the programs before the voters in the fall, council members debated tweaking the ballot language. They did make some changes on Tuesday, but generally agreed to keep the language close to what went before voters in 2000.
“We have a great program that’s working,” said County Chair Ed Kelley. “We have great language that has passed before.”
“Keep it simple and keep it moving forward,” added Council member Barb Girtman.
If approved by voters, the new measures would authorize the county to issue bonds to fund future projects – up to $40 million in bonds for the ECHO program and up to $60 million for Volusia Forever. The bonds would be repaid by the programs’ dedicated property taxes.
And just like in the 2000 referendum, the ballot language would require each program to have an advisory oversight committee. The ECHO advisory committee remains in existence, but the Volusia Forever committee disbanded in 2011 after the program’s funds were exhausted. The council added a requirement that each program be subject to an annual audit.