The following is a guest editorial by Christine Johnson, President of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.

Conserving the land next to our waterbodies is one of the best ways to make sure we have drinkable, fishable, swimmable water. That’s why a group of concerned citizens banded together with two not-for-profits, Manatee Fish & Game Association and Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, to create dedicated funding for land conservation in Manatee County.

Their plan is to ask Manatee County voters this November if they are willing to spend a little to save a lot. The group was successful in getting a referendum question placed on the November ballot and created a political committee, Vote FOR Water and Land, to get the word out.

The word is that nothing is more important than keeping our water clean and free from pollution. It impacts our quality of life every day. –If Manatee County voters approve the ballot measure, then $50 million will be available to purchase land and easements that will protect our drinking water, prevent polluted stormwater runoff from flowing into our bays, rivers, and creeks, and provide natural floodwater storage. The funds will also be used to create parks and preserves which ensures that Manatee County’s natural beauty is preserved for all to enjoy, now and for our children and grandchildren.

If Vote FOR Water and Land passes with more than a 50% vote in November, Manatee County can purchase a $50 million bond that will be paid for using an increase in property taxes of .15mil, an increase of .00015. For the average home value, that equates to just $2.40 a month, a small price to pay to have parks and preserves in Manatee County that protect our clean water and quality of life.

There will be strict accountability provisions to ensure the funds are spent properly. If passed in November, the resolution requires that the funds can only be used for the purposes stated in the proposal. There will also be an annual public audit of how the funds are spent. Furthermore, Manatee County citizens will have multiple ways to give input on the selection of properties: 1. They can serve on or attend a citizens’ advisory committee that will give recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners; 2. They can give public comment at each Board of County Commissioners’ meeting when a parcel is up for preliminary approval; and 3. They can give public comment at each Board of County Commissioners’ meeting when a parcel is up for final approval.

Manatee County needs this dedicated fund for water and land. Land prices continue to rise and the amount of natural land is dwindling, all at a rapid pace. The State of Florida’s average amount of conserved land is 30%, but in Manatee County it is only 10%. We must act now to protect Manatee County’s last remaining natural areas and wildlife habitat before they are lost forever to development.

Vote FOR Water and Land needs your help.

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