Land Conservation Vote

TAMPA -

This November, Hillsborough voters will decide whether to continue a current land preservation program called ELAPP. One of the jewels among the 44,700 acres purchased under the program is Cockroach Bay. For a closer look at what your tax dollars funded, go 'Canoeing on Cockroach Bay.' It's a slideshow produced by Dalia Colon who is interning in the WUSF newsroom this fall.

ELAPP is an acronym for Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program. Hillsborough voters overwhelmingly approved the program 20 years ago by a 71 percent vote. They taxed themselves an additional quarter mill in property taxes to fund conservation of environmentally sensitive land. Voters later approved $100 million in bonds for the program.

'Those dollars have been spent very wisely in acquiring almost 44,700 acres of important properties and their advisory committee has identified an additional 44,000 acres which would benefit from protection,' according to Dick Eckenrod, vice president of Preserve Hillsborough, a group campaigning for re-authorization of the ELAPP program.

The referendum asks voters to approve $200 million in bonds for land acquisition. Without it, Eckenrod says the program will end.

One argument for approval of the referendum is that land prices are currently low making it a good time to buy and preserve sensitive acreage.

But, the poor economic conditions responsible for lower property values have some questioning if now is the time to ask voters for money. Some residents have protested in letters to the local newspaper editor. But there is no coordinated opposition.

There is a coordinated effort among ELAPP supporters. They argue the referendum is not a new tax - it just renews a current tax that will go down slightly and amounts to $27 a year for a home assessed at $300,000.

Eckenrod wants voters to know that the county money is maximized with matching grants. And there's a system to monitor the ELAPP money.

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