Polk Forever

Photo by Jeff Spence

Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities

1000 Friends of Florida Endorses Polk Forever

September 6, 2022

Florida’s leading nonprofit advocate of sustainable communities, 1000 Friends of Florida, urges general election voters in Polk County to vote YES on their November 8th ballot to revive the county’s successful program to protect critical natural lands. If approved by voters, this measure would reinstitute a property tax of 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable value for 20 years, initially costing the average Polk County homeowner $2.50 a month. The funds generated would be used to finance a bond issue of up to $75 million to purchase and manage environmentally significant lands, or purchase conservation easements to protect working ranch and forest lands from development.

Polk County voters approved a similar tax levy in 1994, but it expired in 2015. That prior measure generated funding to purchase, manage or preserve more than 25,000 environmentally significant acres in the county. This local funding was matched more than 2-1 by state and regional agencies. But critical natural lands remain unprotected and vulnerable to development as the county continues to grow. Thousands of acres of forests, wetlands and farms across Polk already have been lost forever.

Protecting the county’s remaining critical natural lands would preserve areas that recharge and naturally cleanse the water supply and reduce flooding. It would expand, buffer and connect existing wildlife preserves and corridors, and protect critical wildlife and plant habitat. It would enhance the county’s trail system, expand public access for recreation on natural lands and waterways, and bolster the economy through enhanced ecotourism.  There are four high-priority natural-resource areas for protection in Polk County: the Green Swamp, the Lake Wales Ridge, the Upper Kissimmee River Basin, and the Upper Peace River.

Under Polk’s revived land conservation program, anyone could nominate a property for protection, but only land from willing sellers or donors would be considered. A citizens committee would review nominated properties using established and detailed criteria to evaluate and rank their priority. The committee would then make recommendations to the County Commission.

Upper Peace River Headwaters by Jeff Spence

In recent years, the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress have made sizable investments in land conservation. However, competition is stiff among Florida communities for a share of those dollars.

Local governments that can contribute their own funds for land conservation are in the best position to leverage matching state or federal funds. They also have the resources themselves to continue protecting land regardless of politics in Tallahassee and Washington.

Recognizing this reality, communities across Florida have created local land conservation programs with a variety of funding sources, often through voter approval.

1000 Friends’ strong support for Polk’s ballot measure is based on our decades of promoting the management of growth and sound conservation throughout Florida. We endorsed land conservation ballot initiatives in three other counties in the 2020 election, and all three passed by wide margins. When critical natural lands are protected from development, more growth is directed toward already developed areas with the infrastructure in place to support it. This smarter approach not only reduces the impact of development on fragile land, water and wildlife; it also cushions the blow to taxpayers, who don’t get stuck with the bill for extending public services to remote areas. Polk County residents deserve policies that are environmentally and taxpayer friendly. 

Preserving critical natural lands in Polk County would protect the county’s water supply, wildlife, natural beauty and quality of life. It would fortify Polk’s reputation among residents, visitors and employers as a great place to live, work, study and play. We urge county voters to Vote YES on their November 8th ballots to revive Polk’s land conservation program.