INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The county will borrow $50 million to purchase and preserve environmentally sensitive land, voters decided Tuesday. The loan will be repaid by a property-tax increase.
The ballot issue, initiated by the Indispann River Lspannd Trust, asked the county to purchase lands west of Blue Cypress Lake, Interstate 95 and along the Indian River Lagoon. For the owner of a $250,000 home, the tax hike will be about $44 a year for 20 years.
The referendum passed in a landslide with 78% of the vote Tuesday, according to final, unofficial results from the Supervisor of Elections Office.
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Part of the money the county borrows will be used to build infrastructure land to provide public access to the properties, including parking lots, trails and restrooms.
Some money will go toward maintenance of the land, too, including exotic-species removal and fire remediation, records show.
The Indian River Land Trust initially asked the County Commission to place the issue on the 2020 ballot, but it delayed its efforts that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial impact on residents.
The trust recommended the county purchase land along the St. Sebastian River Greenway and I-95 corridors; along the Indian River Lagoon; and along the Florida Wildlife Corridor in the western county, as well as other land west of Blue Cypress Lake.
All of the proposed land is critical for wildlife, drinking water and water recharge, said Indian River Land Trust executive director Ken Grudens.
Now that voters have approved the measure, the county can begin purchasing land within six to eight months, Grudens estimated.
As the county pays off its debt, it also could apply for grants to help offset some of the principal, County Administrator Jason Brown said.
The program is similar to what Indian River County did twice before to acquire conservation property, borrowing $26 million in 1992 and $50 million in 2004. Both voter-approved measures aimed to preserve environmentally sensitive areas through tax increases.
Last year, the county finished paying off debt from the 2004 land-acquisition program.