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Twenty years ago, a grassroots movement in Volusia County to preserve environmentally sensitive lands and improve and expand ecological, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational facilities led to the birth of the ECHO and Volusia Forever programs.

Both ECHO and Volusia Forever attracted overwhelming community support when voters went to the polls in 2000 to approve the programs and the dual property taxes of up to 1/5 of a mill each that fund them.

To a resident who owns a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption, both programs combined amount to an extra $40 a year on their tax bill.

The results of the voters’ decision are evident everywhere you look, including right here in West Volusia.

With Volusia Forever, more than 38,000 acres have been acquired through purchase and conservation easements. Environmental gems like the Lake George Forest and Wildlife Management Area, the Longleaf Pine Preserve and the Scrub Oaks Preserve are now being maintained as public lands for generations to enjoy.

And the ECHO program has helped finance the acquisition, restoration, construction and improvement of facilities that are being used right now for environmental, ecological, cultural, historical/heritage and outdoor recreation.

A total of 221 projects have been funded, including a world-class series of popular multiuse trails.

Also right here in our West Volusia community, other beneficiaries of the ECHO program have included the African American Museum of the Arts, the Athens Theatre, the Barberville Pioneer Settlement, the Lake Helen Creative Arts Center, Spec Martin Memorial Stadium and the Sperling Sports Complex, Shoestring and Stover theatres, the Museum of Art – DeLand, the Seville soccer field, Stetson University’s aquatic center, and several local recreational facilities such as Barkley Square Dog Park, Lemon Bluff Park, Shell Harbor Park and the DeLand Family YMCA.

Now, two decades later, the original voter mandate is about to expire.

With the last tax levy for both programs scheduled to occur next year, the County Council has agreed to let Volusia County voters decide if they want the programs to be renewed for another 20 years.

The twin questions will be put before voters in the Nov. 3 general election.

Much like it was 20 years ago, I look forward to this once again becoming a genuine grassroots issue. It’s my hope that community and civic organizations will get involved, become engaged in the process, and host educational meeting and listening sessions.

We want to make sure your voices are heard. And we want to make sure that the public is ready to make an informed decision that serves the best interests of our community.

The best way to do that is to get involved and be a part of the conversation.

I’m just a phone call (386-837-8069) or an email (bgirtman@volusia.org) away.

— Girtman is a member of the Volusia County Council, representing DeLand-area District 1. She also helps lead the county’s Complete Count Committee for the census.

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