Hillsborough restoring money to land-buying program
Hillsborough County’s conservation lands program, which was practically bankrupt, is getting an infusion of money thanks to better-than-expected property tax revenues.
County Administrator Mike Merrill this week amended his fiscal 2016 budget to include $15 million for the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, also known as ELAPP. County commissioners gave the budget preliminary approval Thursday night.
The popular land-buying program was down to just $3.5 million — all that remained from a $59 million bond issue county commissioners approved in 2009. The previous year, nearly 80 percent of voters approved continuing the program, authorizing the county to borrow up to $200 million to buy conservation land. But the ballot measure did not include a small property tax that had financed the program in earlier years.
In May, Commissioners Stacy White and Les Miller proposed replenishing the fund with part of a $22.8 million settlement from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The other commissioners, however, opted to save the oil-spill payout until next year for yet-to-be-determined projects.
The prospect of the conservation program failing alarmed the environmental community. Merrill said he realized a sizeable segment of county residents and their representatives wanted something done.
“There was the proposal to use the BP settlement for ELAPP and there was support from a segment of the environmental community and from some of the board,” Merrill said. “So we offered it as an option as we were fine-tuning the budget.”