Collier to continue with current conservation land buying

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Collier County will continue to pursue the purchase of nine properties currently designated for conservation, but will hold off on adding a new cycle of conservation lands until funding can be secured after a vote by commissioners on Tuesday.

The commission had previously voted to use $17 million from Conservation Collier’s maintenance fund in order to purchase new property, with the intention of eventually replenishing the fund. Currently the fund sits at around $30 million. Two of the nine properties on the list had already been approved for purchase by the board, but county staff suggested that the remainder be put on a lower priority list until a dedicated funding source could be found for the program. The commissioners disagreed.

“I don’t see any reason to take properties off the a-list because there isn’t a fund available, because there is a fund available,” said Commissioner Burt Saunders. “I thought this commission sorta said to our committee and our staff, go find some land and buy it.”

Commissioner William McDaniel, who originally suggested using a portion of the maintenance fund for purchases, also disagreed with the idea that a funding source was required to move forward.

“There is a funding source, the notion that there isn’t a funding source I think has been misconstrued. I didn’t understand the rationale of moving these properties from the a-list to the b-list.”

The fund was originally created through a special tax approved by voters in order to pay for maintenance on preservation lands which the county already owned, and was meant to replenish itself through interest. County Manager Leo Ochs warned the commission that taking money from the program to buy additional property would impact how long the fund could sustain itself unless new revenue is added.

“You are using a maintenance fund to acquire property,” said Ochs. “If you buy all these properties, you are blowing through $18 million. Your perpetual maintenance fund will last you 15 years if you don’t refill the bucket. I just gotta make sure everyone understands that.”

The commissioners voted to pursue the properties already on the list for purchase but instructed staff to not begin the search for additional preservation lands until a revenue source had been designated to refill the fund.

Members also approved the negotiations to purchase a 169-acre parcel of wetlands known as the Gore estate, estimated to cost about $750,000.

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