Volusia County Conservation

Photo by Clay Henderson

Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities

Vote YES on Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO

1000 Friends of Florida urges general election voters in Volusia County to Vote YES on your November 3rd ballot to renew two forward-thinking, successful citizen-initiated programs, Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO.  Both programs, overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2000, dedicate a small share of county ad valorem assessments to citizen-directed investments in protecting Volusia County’s environment and enhancing its quality of life. But both programs will expire unless voters renew them for another 20 years in the November election. Renewal will simply maintain current level of  support for these vital initiatives, and will not increase taxes.

Whether you use a mail-in ballot or go to the polls on November 3, please vote YES on both Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO to protect the county’s lands and waters and enhance its quality of life!

Find out more about the Volusia Forever and Volusia Echo ballot referenda.

Photo by Pat Northey

Statement from 1000 Friends of Florida

September 29, 2020

Florida’s leading nonprofit advocate of sustainable development, 1000 Friends of Florida, urges general election voters in Volusia County to Vote YES on your November 3rd ballot to renew two forward-thinking, successful citizen-initiated programs, Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO.

Both programs, overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2000, dedicate a small share of county ad valorem assessments to citizen-directed investments in protecting Volusia County’s environment and enhancing its quality of life. But both programs will expire unless voters renew them for another 20 years in the November election. Renewal will simply maintain current level of  support for these vital initiatives, and will not increase taxes.

Volusia Forever is dedicated to buying and managing land to protect drinking and surface water, wildlife, forests, farmland and outdoor recreation opportunities in the county.   Nothing is more important than having clean water to drink.  Volusia Forever protects land around our rivers, lakes, springs and streams, so we can prevent runoff and toxic chemicals from flowing into Volusia County’s water supply.

More than 38,000 acres have been acquired or improved through the program. But there are more in need of protection, such as lands to complete the Volusia Conservation Corridor, Spruce Creek Preserve and Indian River Lagoon Blueway. Those properties, all Florida Forever Projects, would qualify for matching funds from the state. In fact, for every dollar the county has invested through Volusia Forever since 2000, partnering agencies and organizations have contributed another 45 cents.

Volusia Forever is citizen driven. An advisory board of citizen experts evaluates potential acquisitions to ensure they are worthy of protection, and develops a priority list. Land purchases are only from willing sellers, based on fair market value from certified appraisers. The county’s share of the purchase price comes from the Volusia Forever Fund, which receives the revenue from an ad valorem tax of 20 cents on every $1,000 of taxable property value — less than $25 a year for the average homeowner. Renewal of the program this year would authorize the county to issue up to $60 million in bonds to fund future acquisitions. Volusia Forever will remain subject to full public disclosure through annual audits.

This year the Florida Legislature and Governor tripled state funding for land conservation through Florida Forever. However, competition from Florida communities for those dollars is fierce, and the funding dedication still has not been restored to pre-2010 levels.  Local governments that can contribute their own funds to land conservation are in the best position to qualify for matching state funds.  They also don’t have to depend on state funding to protect land, regardless of politics in Tallahassee and Washington. Recognizing this reality, communities across Florida have created and financed local land conservation programs through a variety of local funding sources, often backed by voters.  Since 1998, Florida voters have approved 97 land conservation ballot measures, according to the Trust for Public Land.  If Volusia County wants to maintain a sustainable local conservation program, it needs to renew Volusia Forever. Otherwise, valuable and irreplaceable conservation land in the county will be lost forever to development before it can be saved.

Because we believe so strongly in smart growth, 1000 Friends of Florida is among the organizations that have bestowed awards on Volusia Forever. As environmentally sensitive land in the county is protected from development through public acquisition or conservation easements, more growth will be directed toward areas with the infrastructure in place to support it.  This smarter approach not only reduces the impact of development on the fragile land, water and wildlife; it also cushions the blow to taxpayers, who don’t get stuck with the cost of extending public services to remote areas.  Volusia County residents deserve policies that are both environmentally and taxpayer friendly.  To achieve both goals, 1000 Friends of Florida urges voters to renew Volusia Forever.

Volusia ECHO, also funded through an ad valorem assessment of 1/5 mill, provides matching grants for acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of environmental, cultural, historic and outdoor recreation facilities — categories that correspond to the acronym in its name, and enhance the county’s quality of life. In the two decades since voters approved it, Volusia ECHO has provided grants for 241 projects throughout the county, including museums, cultural and arts venues, historic sites and outdoor recreation facilities. The projects funded through Volusia ECHO draw more than 600,000 visitors a year. All of them are open to the public.

Like Volusia Forever, Volusia ECHO has a citizens’ advisory board, which develops guidelines for grants, vets applications and makes recommendations to the County Council. It also is subject to full public disclosure through annual audits. Renewal will maintain current tax funding for Volusia ECHO and authorize up to $40 million in bonds to finance more matching grants.

Both Volusia Forever and Volusia ECHO have made possible enduring investments in a better future for Volusia County. Extending them for another two decades will not require a tax increase. Both will continue to pay dividends long after the current disruption and hardship related to the pandemic has passed. County voters should seize the opportunity to renew them by voting YES (for bonds) for both Volusia ECHO and Volusia Forever.