Note: It is our goal at One Martin to provide reliable, fact-based information so citizens can be better informed about our government and our community.
The novel coronavirus sweeping our nation dominates our conversation and our news feeds; however, we should not allow this information deluge to overpower an agenda item coming next week before the Martin County Commission – a proposal for a referendum to increase our sales tax to 7 percent.
County Commissioner Sarah Heard called for that tax increase at the Feb. 25 county commission meeting to fund the purchase of 30,000 acres of land – primarily in St. Lucie County – in hopes of spurring a federal commitment to build the C-23, C-24 and C-25 reservoirs, she said.
Since that surprise declaration, she's apparently changed her target to additional land at Allapatah Flats and at Pal-Mar East in southwestern Martin County, according to Stuart New columnist Gil Smart.
Unfortunately, she (and many of her supporters) have couched this loosely crafted initiative in terms that question the values of citizens – and her fellow commissioners:
If you agree with her, then you're a true environmentalist who cares about clean water.
If you question either the process or the motives, it's because you place no value on clean water.
She is attempting to perpetuate yet another myth, and the best defense is to learn the facts. Let's start with today's reality.
Many Martin County families are dealing with cutbacks to salaries, lay-offs and reduced hours due to the impact of this pandemic. Martin County's small businesses are already struggling to survive.
To ask our citizens even to consider additional taxation under such economic uncertainty signals that our commissioners are completely out of touch with the majority of their constituents. We don't know how long this will last, and neither can we predict the length of time to recover.
Is there really any question in anyone's mind that a sales tax referendum in November would fail?
And not just because we're dealing with the novel coronavirus outbreak. Voters just simply do not trust open-ended tax referendums that do not identify precisely how their tax money will be used. Promising new projects are on the drawing board today, so a plan might change tomorrow.
We cannot blame constituents for hesitating to give more money to government officials to spend; however, there's an even larger question here:
Do we truly need to purchase more land in Martin County to meet our clean water goals? We do not believe so, and neither do we believe that's Ms. Heard's primary objective. Consider these facts:
FACT: According to the Martin County Property Appraiser's office, more than 100,000 acres of land in Martin County are owned by government agencies – just about one-third of the county's land area – most of which is for conservation.
FACT: Not included in that acreage are the preserve areas that Martin County requires developers and homeowners to maintain – 25 percent of upland habitats – that remain in private ownership, but cannot be developed. This is in addition to all wetlands, which also must be maintained by private owners if on their property. They are not considered a part of Martin County's conservation acquisitions.
FACT: Sound land use practices, such as those advocated by the 1,000 Friends of Florida environmental group, hold great long-term potential for obtaining clean water objectives, yet are often overlooked in the larger picture – except when used selectively as a tool in the mistaken belief that growth can be stopped altogether.
We know we cannot shut the gates to people moving to Florida, which we've talked about previously; however, that's the reason we should feel compelled to follow the 1,000 Friends of Florida's tenets of land planning, which have proven to enhance water quality by protecting and preserving our environment as we manage our growth.
The most recent example in Martin County is the Pineland Prairie development, heralded by many as fitting our values and our needs, yet targeted by the county's most discordant voices as a violation of those same values.
Pineland Prairie exemplifies the 1,000 Friends' concepts of a mixed-use development, preserving wide swaths of natural land by clustering development to an area easily supported by our infrastructure, and increasing density within an “urban core,” such as our Community Redevelopment Areas will now be able to do, as well.
For Ms. Heard to tie a value judgment to her proposed sales tax increase is absurd. We suspect her intent is to force commissioners up for re-election to “prove” they support clean water initiatives by supporting her sales tax increase.
We also suspect she underestimates Martin County residents, who will see clearly through the rhetoric and likely will reject her proposal outright.