Two proposals for continuing the 19-year-old ECHO and Volusia Forever programs are the only county-specific referendums on Volusia County ballots in this year’s general election, and they are, in the words of one proponent, among “the most consequential.”
The twin programs are intrinsically tied to each other — Volusia Forever finances the acquisition of conservation lands to protect water resources, and ECHO finances recreational, cultural and conservation facilities via local grants.
Voters will answer “yes” or “no.” A yes vote will continue the programs for another 20 years, and extend the ad valorem tax of 20 cents per $1,000 of property value that funds each of them.
The 2020 language on the two ballot questions is nearly identical to that of 2000, but adds a yearly audit requirement.
Volusia Forever has acquired more than 38,000 acres — at a cost of $95 million — since it was first approved by voters. ECHO has distributed more than $73 million in matching grants for some 241 projects.
Former Volusia County Council Members Pat Northey and Clay Henderson — who were also instrumental in creation of the programs — spoke in favor of continuing the conservation initiatives at a virtual League of Women Voters event Sept. 26.
In particular, both Northey and Henderson said, the programs are fundamental to protecting quality of life for county residents as its population, and development, expands.
“It really is the history of this county that we’re going to continue to grow,” Henderson said. “You’re going to need this tool in the toolbox, as a hedge to make sure that you can protect against urban sprawl, and be able to protect some of these places before it’s too late.”
Henderson pointed out that the cost to an average taxpayer amounts to “less than $30 a year” for each program, while both programs support the ecotourism that is a major economic driver in the county.
Asked whether the programs should continue in a time of competing priorities and economic uncertainty, Northey reiterated their importance.
“I would say that it was absolutely the right time, that we cannot not do this,” Northey said. “When you look at the overall over 20 years, I believe that it was the average is $30 a year. That’s a small amount of money over 20 years on two programs that have fundamentally changed how Volusia County’s quality of life has gone forward.”
- African American Museum of the Arts, DeLand
- Barberville Pioneer Settlement, Barberville
- Barkley Square Dog Park, DeLand
- Dewey O. Boster Sports Complex, Deltona
- Earl Brown Park, DeLand
- Gateway Center for the Arts, DeBary
- Lyonia Environmental Center, Deltona
- Marine Discovery Center, New Smyrna Beach
- Volusia County’s trails program