Collier mulls taxes to save land from development

Assessment could raise $8.4M in 10 years

By FORREST NORMAN, fnorman@news-press.com

Collier commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to put a taxes-for-preservation proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot.

If commissioners decide to have a referendum on the proposal developed by a committee of environmentalists with help from county staff the county could raise as much as $8.4 million per year over 10 years to spend on environmentally pristine land.

Commissioners would levy a tax of up to 25 cents per thousand dollars of assessed property value to pay for the land acquisition.

The proposal calls for an annual operating budget of $60,000 after the first year's expenses of $67,000 for an administrator and a citizen oversight committee.

'There's absolutely no doubt this could help Collier,' Commissioner Jim Colletta said. 'The question is how taxpayers will vote on this.'

In November, county officials received results from a survey of 250 residents, showing that conservation was a top priority for 81 percent of them.

However, 65 percent of Collier voters rejected a half-cent sales tax to raise $80 million to buy coastal Collier land for environmental protection and public recreation in 1996.

'A lot of people say, 'Well, 86 percent of Collier's land is already in conservation easements of one kind or another,' ' Colletta said. 'On the other hand, the same people say they want to slow down growth. One way to control growth is to control available land.'

Collier residents are traditionally conservative; they overwhelmingly rejected a November proposed sales-tax increase for road construction.

Collier Community Development Administrator Joe Schmidt said county staff only worked on the procedural aspects of the proposal, helping Conservation Collier members get the language and format of the proposal correct.

'We're not taking a position on this I'll leave that to the voters,' Schmidt said. 'But as a private citizen, I do wonder about where they're going to find the land in Collier's urban areas.

'Most of the land is pretty well planned.'

Lee County voters approved Conservation 2020 six years ago. That measure generates about $12 million annually from property taxes for preservation.

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