HER LEGACY — Former Volusia County Council Member Pat Northey addresses a crowd at the ribbon-cutting for a portion of the St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop bike trail that connects Volusia County to a network of bike trails around the St. Johns River in Central Florida. During her time on the County Council, Northey was a proponent for bike trails and other outdoor activities. PHOTO COURTESY FDOT


In November of 2000, the very smart voters of our beautiful county voted to tax themselves (61 percent were in favor) for 20 years to provide dollars for bricks-and-mortar and capital projects that would contribute to our quality of life here in Volusia.

That program was ECHO, and the elements it represents: environmental, cultural, historic, and outdoor recreation projects. We did a lot with those dollars during the first 20 years, investing in 239 projects with a combined ECHO and matching-dollar impact of $223 million.

ECHO is not a giveaway; it is a matching-grant program. For every $1 invested by ECHO, we see an average return on our investment of $1.83 by our grant partners.

AFTERNOON RIDE — Jim Ardito, husband of St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance President Maggie Ardito, is shown riding past a sign demarcating the Pat Northey 5K trail segment, named for former Volusia County Council Member Pat Northey.

Well … time flies when we are doing good things in our county, like constructing important cultural and outdoor recreational projects, saving endangered and historic buildings, and providing for environmental education.

As ECHO’s 20 years were coming to an end, a grassroots committee convinced the County Council to place the program on the ballot for reauthorization. And, we did it again with 72 percent of Volusia County voters casting their ballots to continue the program for an additional 20 years, overwhelmingly signaling their support for quality of life in Volusia County.

The program is overseen by a citizen advisory committee, with all recommendations going to the County Council for final approval. I am honored to serve as the chair of our ECHO committee of nine really smart and engaged citizen volunteers who want to do the best for our citizens, and are focused on improving our quality of life.

So, when we had the opportunity to support what’s called a “direct county expenditure strategic plan,” as proposed by the county staff, our committee unanimously recommended that the County Council adopt the plan, which the County Council did at their March 7 meeting.

This strategic plan represents an ECHO investment of $15.4 million over five years to fund 43 projects at 32 sites across the county. And, importantly, it does not touch future ECHO revenues, leaving intact the annual appropriation to fund projects submitted by our cities and not-for-profits.

An example of a direct county expenditure is the county’s showcase trails plan. We allocate $1.5 million annually from ECHO to this program. This allows the parks staff to do long-term planning for trails without returning to the ECHO committee as a competitive grant request.

All the projects adopted by the County Council are aligned with current ECHO program eligibility criteria, and direct county expenditure is allowed by the enabling resolution of 2020.

Over the life of the program, the council has funded 22 projects totaling $16 million through the DCE process. This time around, ECHO will be funding 11 environmental, two historic, and 30 outdoor-recreation projects that will be done by the county.

These projects are geographically distributed across the county for public use. I am personally excited to see that the 11 environmental projects in the plan nearly double the 15 ECHO environmental projects that were funded from 2000 to the present.

This first year, the plan will fund 13 projects using $5,656,205 in ECHO reserve funds that will be matched with an additional $3,171,204 from other funding sources. The plan will be updated as needed, and any changes will be brought back to the ECHO committee with final approval by the County Council.

Lastly, all projects will be tracked, and progress can be viewed by the public on the ECHO Program Transparency Dashboard. And, of course, all projects will be subject to the required ECHO annual audit.

Volusia County’s ECHO program is unique in the state, perhaps in the nation. We have been investing in our quality of life for more than 20 years, and we continue to be the shining example of how to do it right!

Thank you to all those voters who believed in the program enough to reauthorize it. The program is operating as intended.

— Northey, a former member of the Volusia County Council representing Southwest Volusia District 5, lives in Deltona.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here