In 2021, Polk Forever organized as a political committee to
reauthorize funding to the Environmental Lands Program through the
passage of the Water & Lands Referendum. In 2022, 60% of Polk
County voters approved the referendum.
What is the purpose of this referendum?
The purpose is to continue the job started under the original 1994 voter approved citizen referendum that created the Polk County Environmental Lands Program.
To acquire additional conservation lands that can be purchased outright or protected by conservation easements; expand, buffer and connect existing preserves and wildlife corridors.
If approved, this program will provide funding to purchase and conserve environmental lands needed to protect our water quality and wildlife habitat.
How will we pay for this land?
If approved, this referendum will provide funding through a dedicated 0.2 mil ad valorem tax (property tax) for a period of 20 years.
Monies will be dedicated to acquisition and management of lands purchased outright or to the purchase of conservation easements that will keep the land in private ownership while protecting important natural resources.
How much would this cost me?
Approximately $30 per year. The average single-family home in Polk County is assessed at $150,000. The tax for the average homeowner would be $30 per year or $2.50 per month.
For example: $150,000 ÷ 1,000 x 0.2 mills = $30
Additional exemptions (Homestead, Senior (Age 65 and older), Widow/Widower, Disability, and Disabled Veteran Exemptions) can further lower the amount you would pay.
Are matching funds available?
Yes! Polk County has the opportunity to double its investment with matching funds earmarked for the purchase of environmentally sensitive lands.
State and federal programs give higher priority to sites where local governments will match their monies.
Why should I vote Yes on this referendum?
Water is essential.
Our water supplies have been degraded by the ditching, draining and destruction of wetlands and by the over-pumping of groundwater. Regulations alone will not ensure the protection of our water resources. Uplands and wetlands recharge and clean our water cheaply and effectively if left in their natural state.
Wildlife needs habitat.
There are 25 plant and 18 animal species in Polk County in danger of extinction if natural habitats that support them are not protected. Destruction and fragmentation of habitat are the greatest threats to the survival of wildlife.
Wilderness is vanishing. It is important that we act now if we are to preserve what remains of our natural heritage for generations to come.
What land will be acquired under this referendum?
Polk County contains a number of important environmental jewels that need better protection. These lands are part of our natural heritage:
The Green Swamp is Central Florida’s most vital drinking water resource. It is also a critical hub of the Florida Wildlife Corridor as four rivers radiate from the swamp providing wildlife corridors of statewide significance.
The Lake Wales Ridge is the home of ancient sand dune scrubs containing the highest concentrations of endangered species in North America. All of them are in danger of extinction due to the loss of nearly 90% of this habitat to citrus production and residential development.
The Upper Kissimmee Basin, located along Polk’s eastern border, is home to the largest concentrations of bald eagle nests south of Alaska. Its freshwater marshes, hardwood swamps, dry prairies and scrub woods provide quality habitat for crested caracaras, kestrels, fox squirrels and gopher tortoises.
The Peace River, extending from the Green Swamp, travels over 100 miles to the Gulf of Mexico and offers opportunities to re-create a critical natural corridor for wildlife and recreation.
Will I be able to visit these properties after they’re purchased?
Yes, if purchased outright. The amount of access will vary depending on the character of the property and the site’s management plan. Public access for compatible, nature-based recreation such as hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, canoeing, and camping will be offered on appropriate sites.
No, if the property is under a conservation easement. A conservation easement conserves resources on the property at less cost while keeping the land in private ownership. This is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that keeps land in agricultural and/or open space. The agreement is customized to meet the landowner’s objective and will be perpetual.
How will lands be selected for purchase under this program?
A citizens committee (known as CLASAC – Conservation Lands Acquisition Selection Advisory Committee) will review all properties nominated for consideration using an established detailed criteria to evaluate and rank the properties. Once the properties are evaluated, CLASAC will make recommendations to the County Commission.
The criteria determines whether the land has true conservation value and can be managed effectively.
Anyone can make a nomination. Only properties from willing sellers or donors which meet the criteria will be considered.
Would removing property from the tax roll hurt our tax base?
Acquisition of these lands will have a minimal impact on our overall tax base.
The lands identified for acquisition are, for the most part, natural areas currently taxed under agricultural classifications.
Studies have shown that natural lands attract tourism and businesses that put money into the local economy and tax base.
Donations can be mailed to:
PO Box 773, Winter Haven, 33882-0773
Donations are not tax deductible
All political advertisements are paid for by Polk Forever, a citizen’s initiated political committee.
Contact us to schedule a presentation Marian Ryan (863) 207-5206 or Suzanne Lindsey (863) 698-5531.