Should Collier County reestablish the Conservation Collier Land Acquisition Program and fund it with a .25 mil ad valorem tax for a period of ten years?
That’s the question facing voters in a non-binding referendum titled “Reestablish Funding for Conservation Collier to Protect Water Quality, Water Resources, and Wildlife Habitat.”
The proposed quarter-mil tax is the equivalent of $25/year for each $100K of taxable property value, or $75/year for a $300K home.
What is Conservation Collier?
Conservation Collier is a taxpayer-funded land acquisition program created in 2003. The program was the result of a 2002 voter referendum in which taxpayers said they were willing to be taxed up to .25 mills for up to ten years and allow bonding by the County of up to $75 million.
The majority of the funds collected between 2004 and 2013 were used to acquire 4,345 acres of sensitive land in 21 preserve locations throughout the County.
The majority of the land acquired is located where people live and is open to the public. The Gordon River Greenway and Freedom Park are among the most visited preserves. The largest is the Pepper Ranch Preserve in Immokalee at 2,512 acres.
Click here for an interactive map of the 21 Conservation Collier preserves.
Approximately 20% of the funds collected between 2004 and 2013 was set aside to fund the management of the lands in perpetuity. As of January 2020, there was about $30 million in the trust fund, according to the Naples Daily News.
How the New Taxes Will Be Used
According to the County’s Conservation Collier website, this is how the taxes collected over the next 10-year program period will be spent:
- 65-75% — to acquire new preserve land;
- up to 10% — to fund public amenities at preserves (may include boardwalks, facilities, parking, interpretive programming, etc.);
- 25% — for management of acquired preserve lands. 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 authorized by the referendum.
The land acquisition program is conducted in an open and transparent manner, with public meetings of an appointed citizen committee that reviews properties nominated by willing sellers. Staff ranks the parcels using criteria including public access, environmental value, and habitat. Fair market value appraisals are conducted on approved parcels so an equitable sale can be made and the land is preserved and managed in perpetuity. For more, see Conservation Collier FAQs and Conservation Collier Land Acquisition Advisory Committee.
The Referendum Sponsor
The referendum sponsor is Yes Conservation Collier PAC, a community group organized by Naples landscape architect Ellin Goetz. Goetz was the driving force behind the initial Conservation Collier referendum in 2002 and its continuation through 2013. She was recognized by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida for her work and actions to protect the natural environment and quality of life in Southwest Florida in 2010.
Commissioners voted 4-1 in January to place the question on the November ballot. Commissioner Bill McDaniel cast the opposing vote. He had proposed to instead put a line item on residents’ tax bills to see “what kind of support Conservation Collier gets from a voluntary standpoint.”
The PAC’s campaign finance reports disclosed:
- Monetary contributions of $19,315, including $10,000 from Collier Enterprises Management, $5,100 from Richard and Marjory Grant, $2,000 from Ellin Goetz, $1,000 from Eliza Nevin and 12 contributions below $1,000;
- In-kind contributions of $18,611, consisting largely of staff support provided by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and The Trust for Public Land; and
- Total expenditures and distributions of $4,135.
The referendum is supported by The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation, Audubon of the Western Everglades, Florida Audubon, and The Trust for Public Land.
Its endorsers include Naples Botanical Garden, Southwest Florida Land Preservation Trust, Naples Pathways Coalition, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, Corkscrew Island Neighborhood Association, Naples Chapter of the Native Plant Society, Florida Conservation Voters, Sierra Club Calusa Chapter, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, National Wildlife Federation, 1000 Friends of Florida, and “prominent realtors and local businesses.”
The Naples Daily News editorial board also supports it:
- Editorial: Conservation Collier provides important benefits, even in trying times. Naples Daily News, 10/13/20
Supporters say the program will protect water quality and supply by preserving land around lakes, canals and estuaries, keeping polluted runoff from flowing into local water supplies. In addition, they say it will protect rare and sensitive wildlife habitat that is home to the Florida panther, black bear, and threatened Wood Stork.
The Collier County Republican Executive Committee opposes the referendum because, “with business owners and residents struggling to get by with the shutdown, it is not the appropriate time to pass a tax, furthering stress to the community,” said CCREC Chairman Russell Tuff in an email.
Collier Commissioner Bill McDaniel has also spoken against the tax, saying Conservation Collier should be an optional program supported by voluntary contributions, like a charity.
A YES vote means you support the County reestablishing a quarter-mil ad valorem tax for 10 years, for the purpose of acquiring, preserving, and managing environmentally sensitive lands.
A NO vote means you do not support reestablishing the Conservation Collier program.
Again, this is a non-binding straw vote being used to gauge voter sentiment on the issue. The Board can always choose to fund Conservation Collier as part of its normal budgeting process.
For More Information
- Editorial: Keep pushing on Conservation Collier acquisitions. Naples Daily News, 7/19/18
- Environmental advocates gear up for Conservation Collier vote. Naples Daily News, 11/27/19
- Voters to decide in November whether to bring back tax for Conservation Collier. Naples Daily News, 1/29/20
- Special tax to support ‘Conservation Collier’ will be on the ballot this November. WINKnews.com, 1/31/20
- Commissioners approve up to $30K for Conservation Collier education prior to referendum. Naples Daily News, 9/9/20
- Guest Commentary. By Dave Trecker via Florida Weekly, 9/17/20
- Community leaders rally for program to preserve more land. Naples Daily News, 10/1/20