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Sales tax vote a possibility this year in Martin County

Conservation land in Martin County on April 5, 2022.jpg
Posted at 4:36 PM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 17:44:21-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Growth is always a hot topic, and Martin County residents may be asked this year if they're willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for land conservation.

A stretch of Bridge Road east of Interstate 95 and west of U.S. 1 in Hobe Sound has stood virtually untouched for generations.

It is part of the Loxa-Lucie Headwaters, and environmentalists are hoping to create a natural corridor to connect the Loxahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers.

"It would also connect Jonathan Dickinson State Park with Atlantic Ridge State Park. That’s a little ambitious because there are a number of properties there, but that would be an incredible corridor," said Tony Zunino with Guardians of Martin County.

It would be one of four areas totaling 45,000 acres that the county may look to preserve.

Those parcels come at a price, an estimated $650 million to $750 million.

The Guardians of Martin County, a local environmental group, will conduct a survey over the next month or so to gauge voter interest for a sales tax increase on either the August, or more likely, November ballot.

"If the results are there’s an appetite for it, I’ll support it. If there’s not, I won’t," said Commissioner Harold Jenkins.

County commissioners discussed Tuesday the possibility of a half-cent sales tax over 10 years. It would generate about $21 million annually for the county and its municipalities.

"I have to stick with my belief that there are other ways for us to create the funding streams necessary for this program," said Commissioner Ed Ciampi.

Ciampi referred to a proposal to develop a nearly 1,500-acre parcel west of Hobe Sound with 300 multi-million-dollar homes that would provide enough tax revenue to fund this type of land acquisition.

"But I can’t support a half-cent sales tax," Ciampi said.

In 2006, a half-cent infrastructure sales tax passed and raised $ 26 million, which allowed the county to buy about 3,300 acres.

But the county’s last two efforts to raise the sales tax in 2014 and 2017 both failed, the latter by a huge majority.

The Guardians of Martin County hopes to buck that trend.

"It’s important to maintain the headwaters so water can get distributed to where it should be going," Zunino said.

Once the Guardians’ survey is complete, commissioners will look at the sales tax issue again in May or June.