Buying and preserving wilderness lands is not something Volusia County may be able to continue to do in the near future as it struggles to make ends meet.
Historically, Volusia County has made large conservation land purchases by partnering with the statewide Florida Forever program. This has enabled the county to buy tracts of land to protect wildlife habitat, ecological greenways, natural floodplains, wetlands, and historic sites before these lands have been paved over with urban development.
During normal times, these programs have been very successful. But during the current economic downturn, these programs are not immune from budget cuts as counties across Florida struggle to make ends meet.
Volusia County recently made a large land purchase that could very well be the last of its kind.
In November, the county spent $28.8 million on a 4,800 acre tract of wetlands and woodlands located north of Deltona. This land will be put into the public domain as a future water source and become part of the Volusia-Flagler Conservation Corridor.
However, budget pressures could mean that this land purchase is one of the last of its kind due to the shrinking property tax base in Volusia County. As the tax base continues to decline there is less cash available for preserving land.
During the past three years, the Volusia County property tax base has declined from $40.7 billion to $26.14 billion – a 36% drop in value that won’t be recovered for years. County leaders are already warning of an additional 10% drop in property values in the future as foreclosures and short sales continue.
In addition, the land acquisition program is only authorized through the year 2021 unless voters decide to extend the program.
As a result, don’t expect Volusia County to continue to purchase land for conservation purposes on this kind of scale in the future.