F&N Article 4: The Guardrails
In our first three columns we discussed why Martin County is such a special place and how acquiring and preserving natural lands can protect the things that make it so special. We then reviewed the county’s land acquisition history and how successful they’ve been at leveraging matching state and federal funds. In the last column, we discussed the four targeted areas, totaling 46,00 acres (Blueways, Indian River Lagoon Watershed, Loxa-Lucie and Pal-Mar) and how they will help to protect and improve our water quality and provide more recreational opportunities.
In this column we’ll be sharing more of the nuts and bolts and the important “guardrails” we’re incorporating into the proposed sales tax initiative to specify how the funds would be used and other safeguards. These "guardrails" will provide assurances to taxpayers that the money raised will be spent in the way it was presented.
Guardrail #1 - Only land in the following four areas will be acquired.
Blueways, Indian River Lagon Watershed, Loxa-Lucie and Pal Mar. If we don’t attempt to acquire these lands now, they could be gone forever.
Guardrail # 2 - Citizens Oversight
The ordinance language that accompanies the referendum will include the requirement of a citizens advisory committee. They will be tasked with screening all proposed purchases and serve as a primary source of property purchase referrals to the Board of County Commissioners.
Guardrail # 3 - Prevent Conflict of Interest
Annual audits of the land and properties purchased would be conducted.
Other Important Considerations about the Sales Tax
The sales tax would not apply to groceries, school supplies and prescription medicine. And it would only apply to the first $5,000 of any purchase.
It’s estimated that more than a third of the monies raised through the sales tax (37.5%) will be from tourists.
There’s a misconception that taking these lands off the tax rolls will cost taxpayers money. That’s not true. Importantly, this initiative will have a net economic benefit of about $381,000 a year and will create more than 1,300 recreation-related jobs.
Why Do We Need to Buy More Land?
For many obvious reasons but the most important is to protect our quality of life. Acquiring and preserving these vast areas of natural lands will:
- Help clean and restore our rivers and waterways
- Safeguard sources of drinking water
- Preserve valuable wildlife habitat and wetlands
- Create more recreational opportunities
Leveraging Funds: Making the Dollars Go Further
The citizens of Martin County have a long, proud and successful history of supporting the acquisition of environmentally sensitive lands. The targeted areas have the potential of receiving matching funding from state and federal sources.
Having a pot of local money generated through the sales tax greatly improves Martin County’s chances of moving higher up on state and federal land acquisition lists. It shows we have “skin in the game.” Receiving matching funds would also provide another layer of protection to ensure the lands remains in conservation forever.
While there are significant matching funds available, there is competition for those dollars and the clock is ticking. Unless we get in-line for them soon, we will lose out on this opportunity.
Martin County Forever has been garnering support for this initiative to place a referendum on the November 2024 ballot for a half-cent sales tax that would last for 10 years. We’ve met with countless business, community and environmental groups and individuals over the last year and have been pleasantly surprised by the widespread support for the sales tax.
In early 2024, Martin County Commissioners must decide if they would like to let the voters of Martin County decide their own destiny and place this referendum on the ballot in 2024.
What do you think? Please email us and let us know. And if you’d like to schedule a presentation to your group or association, please contact us at email@example.com
Jim Snedeker and Merritt Matheson