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Polk County environmentalists want a land conservation tax on the November ballot

If commissioners agree to schedule the referendum and voters approve it, the tax would be levied beginning in 2023 and remain in effect for 20 years.

Polk County had a tax to purchase environmentally sensitive lands for two decades. Now, there's a push to hold a November referendum to consider reviving the program.

A group called called "Polk Forever" wants to resurrect a property tax that was in place from 1994 to 2015. It would levy a tax of 20 cents per $1,000 on taxable property.

Organizer Tom Palmer is a former environmental reporter for The Ledger newspaper. He estimates the tax would bring in about $8.2 million a year. That money could multiply the buying power of sources such as land trusts and other partners.

"We're just trying to fill in gaps, trying to do what we can to get whatever the state doesn't pick because the state's more interested in some of the mega-projects," Palmer said. "So we're a good fit in this kind of total mosaic of land acquisition ventures."

Palmer said a similar tax was passed by voters in 1994 but had no official support.

"It is tough sell," Palmer said. "But on the other hand, we keep getting a lot of feedback from people who are tired of all the land being gobbled up and they'd like some green space."

Palmer says the proposed tax could purchase smaller plots not on the state's radar, such as a parcel near Babson Park on Crooked Lake. The lake is one of the largest in Polk and is on the Lake Wales Ridge, which was the only part of Florida above water two million years ago.