Twenty-year extensions to Volusia County’s ECHO and Volusia Forever grant programs passed by large margins of more than 100,000 votes each in the Nov. 3 general election.
ECHO was approved by 72.4 percent, and Volusia Forever garnered a 75.6-percent approval margin. The rates of voter-approval were higher than the percentages of approval in the 2000 general election when the programs were originally adopted.
ECHO and Forever are funded by ad valorem property taxes of up to a quarter-mill each. ECHO, living up to its acronym, pays for environmental, cultural, heritage or historic and outdoors capital projects, while Volusia Forever uses its funds to buy land for environmental conservation.
The referendums on the Nov. 3 ballot asked whether voters wanted to renew each of the programs for another 20 years, this time with an added yearly audit of how the funds are used.
Former Volusia County Council Member Pat Northey serves on the board of citizen advisers that weighs in on how ECHO funds are used. She said she is looking forward to 20 more years of projects and conservation efforts.
“That speaks volumes about what we value as a county,” she said, commenting on the wide margin of voter approval for the programs. “I think it’s going to be a good 20 years of quality-of-life projects and preservation of natural resources.”
Some Volusia County voters had reservations. The Volusia County Republican Party took a position against renewing the two programs.
Republican Party Chairman Paul Deering said he was concerned about who would truly benefit from the programs, criticizing the practice of giving taxpayer money to nonprofit organizations that could receive funding elsewhere.
Still, Deering said he recognized the value.
“Obviously, the voters have spoken. At the end of the day, the party will be with the voters as they speak,” he said. “We may not always agree, but it had nothing to do with the content of what the voters in 2000 approved.”
Northey said taxpayers should not be too concerned about funding the programs.
“If we have a year where we don’t have a lot of projects, it either rolls over, or we reduce the ad valorem [property tax] that year,” she said. “There’s no obligation to always charge that full rate.”
Northey said she hopes the next 20 years will see projects and conservation efforts that will affect Volusia County for generations.
“I have a granddaughter, and that’s a legacy that these projects leave for that generation. The next 20 years, I think, will be as valuable and successful as these past 20 years in creating ECHO resources and preservation of public lands,” Northey said.