Congratulations to all! The referendum passed with 71% of the vote! Thank you for your support.
Read the FAQs below for details on the intent and benefits of this for nature and for people.
OFFICIAL BALLOT LANGUAGE
November 3, 2020 GENERAL ELECTION BALLOT
WATER QUALITY PROTECTION, FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT PRESERVATION, AND PARK AD VALOREM TAX AND BONDS
To finance the acquisition, improvement, and management of land to protect drinking water sources and water quality, preserve fish and wildlife habitat, prevent stormwater runoff pollution, and provide parks, shall Manatee County levy an additional 0.15 mill ad valorem tax and issue general obligation bonds in a total principal amount not exceeding $50,000,000, maturing within 20 years, bearing interest not exceeding the legal rate, payable from such ad valorem taxes, with annual public audits?
We think of our land and water and human resources not as static and sterile possessions but as life-giving assets to be directed by wise provisions for future days.– Franklin D. Roosevelt
Manatee County voters approved this referendum with 71% Voting FOR clean water and the protection of wildlife habitat on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot. This measure provides dedicated county funding for water quality protection, natural areas preservation, and parks in Manatee County. Read on for the details and benefits.
What must the money be used for?
Funds would be used to protect Manatee County’s last remaining natural areas and wildlife habitat before they are lost forever to development. Funds can only be used to:
- conserve lands that protect drinking water sources,
- protect the water quality of bays, rivers, and creeks,
- prevent polluted storm water runoff from flowing into bays, rivers, and creeks,
- acquire and preserve fish and wildlife habitat,
- provide natural floodwater storage to help reduce flooding,
- conserve natural areas,
- provide parks, and
- manage environmentally significant lands and parks.
What’s the bottom line? How much will it cost me? If approved, how much will my taxes go up?
The most the average homeowner would pay is $2.40 a month. This is a very small price to pay to protect our water quality, preserve natural areas, and provide parks. The average homeowner in Manatee County would pay $29 per year. This is based on an average residential taxable value in Manatee County of $193,378 and assumes all of the bonds are issued at once in 2020. A 0.15 mil property tax increase is 0.00015 of a homeowner’s county taxable value.
The monthly cost for the average commercial property in Manatee County would be $9.33. This is based on an average commercial property taxable value of $747,079.
Why fund this with a property tax rather than a sales tax?
A sales tax is regressive. It would have a greater negative impact on low-wage and disadvantaged citizens. The property tax is generally more broad-based and paid only by property owners in Manatee County.
How will I know the money will be wisely spent? What kind of accountability is there to the taxpayers?
- This proposal requires that the funds can only be used for the purposes stated in the proposal.
- The ballot language requires an annual public audit of how funds are spent and full public disclosure of all project spending.
- Land conservation purchases will only occur with willing sellers.
- A citizens’ oversight committee, the Environmental Lands Management and Acquisition Committee (ELMAC), or a citizens’ oversight committee of similar makeup and purpose that is appointed by the Board of County Commissioners, will review projects, make recommendations to the County Commission, monitor expenditures, and provide added transparency for the public.
Which properties will be protected?
- The County’s citizens’ oversight committee, ELMAC, or a citizens’ oversight committee of similar makeup and purpose that is appointed by the Board of County Commissioners, will use established criteria to evaluate potential properties for conservation.
- The criteria may include attributes such as:
- connectivity or proximity to existing protected properties,
- whether the parcel is in a 100-year flood plain,
- whether the parcel is part of a riverine habitat corridor,
- abundance of federally or state-listed plants or animal species,
- extent of biodiversity,
- degree of threat from development, and
- the level of stewardship that already exists or would be required.
Existing County preserves like Robinson Preserve and Johnson Preserve on Braden River are excellent examples of the kind of properties Manatee County would conserve in the future.
Why is this needed now?
Manatee County is one of the fastest growing counties in Florida and our last remaining undeveloped natural areas and wildlife habitats are disappearing before our very eyes. Unfortunately, due to a lack of dedicated county funding for land conservation, many important natural areas have already been lost to development.
There are many examples of beautiful lands that are lost forever to development. Some of these properties would have protected our waters: Land adjacent to our bays and beaches where many sea life lay their eggs; land adjacent to rivers and streams that would have cleaned rain water before it flows into our drinking water supply; and land that could be holding storm water runoff helping to prevent flooding. If a dedicated fund for land conservation had existed these same lands could have also been used as parks and preserves for more people to enjoy Manatee County’s natural beauty now and for future generations.
We are in a race against time and must ensure a balance between nature and development.
Why not tell us now which properties will be protected?
Publicly identifying individual properties for County acquisition can have a perverse effect by increasing the price to the public.
While the County is prohibited from paying more than appraised value for any property, landowners may legally seek to increase their property entitlements, thus increasing its value prior to negotiations.
Do other Florida counties have a tax dedicated for land conservation?
Yes! Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Volusia, and Martin Counties, just to name a few, have dedicated funds for land conservation.
Why is Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, based in Osprey, involved?
The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is a regional land trust. They protect land in Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, and Collier Counties.
Conservation Foundation has a long history of working in Manatee County. They gifted to Manatee County the 150-acre Robinson Preserve addition and hold a conservation easement on the property.
They also worked collaboratively with the County and neighbors to create the new Johnson Preserve on Braden River and hold a conservation easement on it. Recently, they worked with Manatee County Audubon Society to permanently protect Felts Audubon Preserve in Palmetto.
How much money will be raised?
If approved by the voters, the bonds will generate up to $50 million. Manatee County will apply for matching funds from the State of Florida, the federal government, and private contributors. Over the last ten years, for every $1 of county funds used for conservation, Manatee County has leveraged $2.33 from other sources, more than doubling county funding. We can expect that same leverage if the Water Quality Protection, Fish and Wildlife Habitat Preservation measure is approved.
Why now, in the middle of a global pandemic, with personal and economic hardships?
Growth in Manatee County may have slowed down, but it’s not stopping. With land prices rising dramatically and the amount of natural lands rapidly dwindling, we must act now to protect Manatee County’s last remaining natural areas and wildlife habitat before they are lost forever to development. Protecting water, wildlife, and natural areas will still be critically important, even once the virus subsides.
What’s more, in these troubled times, having close-to-home recreational opportunities such as preserves and trails where we can get some fresh air and be safe, is even more important than ever.
Why can’t the County pay for this some other way? Why do we need to have a referendum?
Manatee County has no dedicated source of funds to buy the land, preserve wildlife habitat, and help protect water quality. The County now has the opportunity to protect our last remaining natural areas from development. If voters approve the bonds, a dedicated fund would be established for land preservation. Bonds would provide the County with funds upfront to take advantage of these lands being on the market now. The measure would also provide funding to manage existing environmentally sensitive lands. Placing this measure on the ballot gives Manatee County voters a chance to decide whether or not they want to preserve water quality and wildlife habitat.
I’ve heard that Manatee County is sitting on a big pile of reserve funds. Why not use those funds for land conservation rather than putting a tax increase on the ballot?
Only 3.5% or $19.2-million of the county’s reserve funds are available for discretionary use by the County Commission. Expenditures from the remaining 96.5% of reserve funds are limited by state law for designated uses only. Those uses are: (1) state required 10% set-aside for contingencies; (2) 3% reserve for salaries; (3) savings account for capital projects as state statutes require capital projects to be fully funded prior to construction; and (4) 20% cash balance and stabilization reserve. The unrestricted $19.2-million of the stabilization fund is to help maintain essential services to citizens in the event of unforeseen disasters such as pandemics and hurricanes. More details on allowable uses of reserve funds can be viewed on the video of the August 31 Manatee County Budget Work Session on the YouTube channel.
Will issuing bonds to purchase sensitive land negatively affect Manatee County’s AAA bond rating?
No, according to the Manatee County’s Bond Counsel at a Board of County Commissioners work session on August 31, it “will have zero effect” on the County’s AAA rating.
What will happen if the bonds do not pass?
The County does not have other dedicated funds to purchase the land if the citizens vote the bonds down in November. Many of our last remaining natural areas and wildlife habitat would in all likelihood be developed. Without matching funds, the County would also be leaving millions of dollars on the table in Tallahassee and Washington, DC.
Whose idea was this anyway?
Many citizens of Manatee County approached the elected officials with concerns about development of natural land in our community. The County heard repeatedly from its citizens that something must be done to protect our water quality, wildlife habitat, natural areas, and quality of life in the face of new development. The Manatee Fish and Game Association and Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, two local nonprofit conservation organizations, are advocates for dedicated county funding for water and land conservation.
Isn’t there enough land and water already protected?
Much of the land you see as natural land across our county is privately owned and can legally be developed. In order to protect the water, wildlife and natural areas that we enjoy today, the WATER QUALITY PROTECTION, FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT PRESERVATION, AND PARK measure is the only way to save it FOREVER.
Protecting our water, wildlife habitat, and natural areas will preserve Manatee County’s natural beauty for future generations, so our children and grandchildren can enjoy them the way we do.
Currently, about 13 percent of Manatee County land is in permanent protected status. Out of the state’s 67 counties, we are #51 in terms of percentage of land preserved and #59 out of 67 in terms of acres preserved per capita.
How do I vote on the WATER QUALITY PROTECTION, FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT PRESERVATION, AND PARK AD VALOREM TAX AND BONDS?
The WATER QUALITY PROTECTION, FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT PRESERVATION, AND PARK AD VALOREM TAX AND BONDS will be on the November 3 General Election Ballot.
Referendums are typically placed at the end of ballots. Please be certain to look at the full ballot.
- You can request an absentee ballot or vote early from October 19th until November 1st.
- Vote-by-Mail information and early voting locations are listed on https://www.votemanatee.com/Vote-By-Mail-Early-Voting/Early-Voting.
- You can also drop your completed mail-in ballot directly into the Supervisor of Elections drop box at 600 301 Boulevard West, Bradenton, FL 24 -hours a day.
- You can cast your ballot at your assigned polling place on November 3. Polls are open from 7:00 AM until 7:00 P.M.
- For more information you can reach the Supervisor of Elections at (941) 741-3823 or visit the website at http://www.votemanatee.com/
Who is running the campaign? Who is Vote FOR Water and Land?
“Vote FOR Water and Land” is a grassroots, citizen-run committee made up of Manatee County residents who represent a wide variety of community values, geographic areas, political affiliations, and public interests in the county. It is the political committee established to advocate for and inform voters about the WATER QUALITY PROTECTION, FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT PRESERVATION, AND PARK measure.
How can I help?
- Vote “FOR” the WATER QUALITY PROTECTION, FISH AND WILDLIFE HABITAT PRESERVATION, AND PARK measure on November 3.
- Tell your friends and family to vote “FOR.”
- Donate funds to Vote FOR Water and Land to help offset the costs of producing informational materials.
To learn more about how you can help support the Water Quality Protection, Fish and Wildlife Habitat Preservation measure, please visit our website at: