ECHO and Volusia Forever Program Renewals to be Left up to Voters in November.
Written by Kristen Schmutz
Belden Communications News
20 years ago, Volusia voters began taxing themselves funding land preservation efforts and Environmental, Cultural, Historical, and Outdoor Recreational facilities in the county. Now this November voters will be going back to the polls to decide if they want to renew ECHO and Volusia Forever programs to continue their efforts for another 20 years.
The Volusia County Council decided to leave the decision of the fate of the two programs in the hands of the voters this November, after hearing from supporters of both 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 will be seen on the ballot in the general election on November 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.
A unanimous vote agreed to add the programs to the ballot, after a debate to change some of the language on the ballot, which was approved during yesterday’s meeting.
“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.