Conservation Collier tax to buy, manage preserve land on November ballot
For the first time in more than a decade, Collier County voters this November will be asked whether they support bringing back a special tax to help pay for a longstanding land preservation program.
Conservation Collier, the county's mechanism to buy environmentally sensitive lands, maintain and preserve them, is on the ballot Nov. 3 as a countywide referendum.
To date, the program has acquired and preserved more than 4,300 acres, but Conservation Collier's initial acquisition phase was closed in 2011 and available funds were put in a maintenance trust fund as the program moved into a preserve management phase.
Conservation Collier was initiated in 2003 after almost 60% of voters backed it during the first referendum in 2002, agreeing to a property tax increase of up to .25 mills for up to 10 years and bonding for up to $75 million.
In 2006, more than 80% of voters favored continuing the program until 2013 when the tax sunsetted.
Now, voters will be able to decide whether they agree with reestablishing the quarter-mill property tax for 10 years to help fund the program.
For homeowners that means they would pay 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $75 a year for a $300,000 home.
Collier officials have estimated that a quarter-mill tax rate would raise between $250 million and $300 million in 10 years. The first year of a reestablished levy is expected to be fiscal 2022, generating tax revenue between $23.9 million and $24.9 million, according to the county.
The original decade-long tax collection cycle generated nearly $152.5 million in revenue for the program. About 20% of the taxes collected were put into a fund to manage existing preserve lands.
If the referendum passes, the county plans to use 65-75% of the money collected to buy new preserve land. Up to 10% would be used to fund public amenities at preserves, which may include boardwalks, parking and interpretive programming. And 25% would be used to manage preserves.
"A majority of the management funds will be placed in a trust fund that will generate interest for annual management activities so that the program can operate in perpetuity using only the taxes collected over the 10 year period," according to an informational website put together by the county ahead of the referendum.
Environmental groups have rallied behind Conservation Collier and said the program's preserves provide wildlife and water quality benefits, and that residents value them.
Some of the most visited existing preserve land is within the Gordon River Greenway and Freedom Park, according to the county website. At 2,512 acres, Pepper Ranch Preserve in Immokalee is the largest Conservation Collier piece of land.
A political action committee, called "Yes Conservation Collier," was formed to boost support for the program. It has so far raised about $21,300, with close to half — $10,000 — coming from Collier Enterprises Management.
Some residents, however, have been critical of the program and Commissioner Bill McDaniel earlier this year voted against putting the referendum on the ballot.
He has said he would instead favor a mechanism that allows residents to voluntarily contribute to Conservation Collier.
A public information meeting on the referendum is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 12, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the county commission chambers on the third floor of the Collier County Government Center. The meeting can also be attended virtually and viewed on Collier TV.
The referendum is the last question on the ballot.