Preserving Paradise: A Half Cent at a Time
Martin County is a special place, and that’s why so many of us who were not born or raised here decided to move here and call this place home. The small-town charm, the slower pace, the lower density, and of course the abundance of undeveloped, natural lands.
But as a Greek philosopher once said, “The only constant in life is change.” Martin County has been changing and will continue to do so as we grow and develop as a community. The burning question is: what can we realistically do to protect what we love most about Martin County?
Over the past 10 months, a small group of concerned citizens has been working together on an initiative called “Martin County Forever.” Our mission is to acquire and preserve important natural lands in Martin County for the benefit of present and future generations.
Why does that matter? For many obvious reasons. Acquiring land will help to protect the unique character of Martin County, clean and restore our rivers and waterways and safeguard sources of drinking water, preserve valuable wildlife habitat and wetlands, and create more recreational opportunities.
How much land are we talking about and where is it located? There’s about 46,000 acres of natural lands within four target areas that are identified on Martin County’s Land Acquisition Map. As seen on the map, they include Blueways, Indian River Lagoon Watershed, Loxa-Lucie and Pal-Mar.
Our County has a successful track record of acquiring environmentally sensitive lands. We just need to build upon it, be proactive and work together.
Martin County citizens have voted in the past to tax themselves to support these kinds of land acquisitions. A voter approved half-cent sales tax in 2006 generated about $30 million and was used to leverage an additional $30 million from state and federal sources.
We can do it again and shape the change we want.
We know that talking about taxes can be controversial but as we’ve embarked on our outreach efforts, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the widespread support we’ve received for the idea. Environmental groups and business leaders alike have encouraged us to move forward with our proposal to the Martin County Board of County Commissioners - to have referendum language placed on the November 2024 ballot for a half-cent sales tax to purchase and preserve Martin County’s most environmentally sensitive lands.
A half-cent sales tax could generate about $18.3 million a year for 10 years. A significant portion (about 38%) would be funded by visitors who spend their money in Martin County. And importantly, the tax would NOT apply to groceries, prescription medication or school supplies. Properties would only be acquired from willing sellers.
Skeptics might want to know how we can trust our government to spend the money as intended. That’s why we’ll be building safeguards into the referendum language including the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee among other things.
This is the first in a series of educational columns. We’ve got much more information to share with you. In future columns we’ll explore the four target areas, share more details on the referendum language, and show how you can get involved. In the meantime, we’d like to hear your thoughts on this initiative. If you’d like to schedule a presentation to your group or association, please contact us at email@example.com.