Land-Buying Program's Benefits Clearly Visible Throughout County
Oct 3, 2008
Hillsborough voters on Election Day can ensure the survival of one of the county's most effective and economical programs. The Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, or ELAPP, preserves wetlands and woodlands throughout the county and in doing so spares taxpayers costly growth problems.
The program uses a small property tax levy (up to a quarter-mill) to buy and preserve environmentally important land.
It was first adopted by voters in 1987. Because of its success, voters in 1990 overwhelmingly passed another referendum that authorized the county to issue bonds of up to $100 million over the next 20 years.
The program runs out in 2011, so on Nov. 4, voters will decide whether to continue the effort.
Given citizens' understandable aversion to property taxes and the tough economic times, there is some fear residents may be reluctant.
But they should see that ELAPP is a bargain. Its cost is small. A full quarter-mill would cost the owner of a $225,000 house with a homestead exemption about $50 a year. But the program now is levied at just .22 mills, which costs the owner of such a house about $44 a year.
And county residents get a lot for their money. ELAPP has preserved more than 44,000 acres. These tracts help protect drinking water sources, buffer Tampa Bay, rivers and lakes and safeguard wildlife habitat.
They provide recreational areas where residents can hike, bike ride, canoe and bird watch.
Moreover, the land-buying program allows the county to safeguard neighborhoods from overdevelopment without violating property owners' rights. By saving green spaces, the need to build roads, schools and other costly infrastructure is averted, and pollution problems are prevented.
And by partnering with state acquisition programs, ELAPP stretches local tax dollars. The state has contributed about $76 million of the roughly $205 million that has been spent on Hillsborough's lands.
ELAPP has saved land throughout the county, from shoreline in Apollo Beach to wetlands in Town 'N Country, from wildlife corridors in New Tampa to scrub habitat in Balm.
The program has been scandal-free because it is subject to rigorous public oversight.
A volunteer committee devises its guiding policies. A group of citizens with environmental expertise decides which lands should be targeted for acquisition. Another panel of business and real estate experts decides what the county should pay.
It says much about the broad support of ELAPP that the leaders of the volunteer campaign to renew it are former Gov. Bob Martinez, a Republican, and former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt, the Democrat who originally spearheaded its adoption.
Both are Hillsborough natives who want to maintain the county's natural beauty. They understand doing so makes the county a more desirable place to live, work and play.
It is extremely important for voters to understand that this is no tax increase. It merely continues a small property tax levy that has proven highly beneficial.
On the continuation of the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, the Tribune strongly recommends that Hillsborough residents vote YES.
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