As ECHO listening sessions begin, the ECHO Volusia Forever Alliance advocates for transparency.
by: Melissa Lammers
ECHO Volusia Forever Alliance
How can the Volusia Forever and ECHO programs keep their promises to voters to protect their quality of life? The ECHO Volusia Forever Alliance that led the successful 2020 grassroots campaign to reauthorize the Volusia Forever and ECHO programs, has made recommendations in the form of a Position Paper, which can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/s4pbf2sx. The Alliance offers the recommendations just in time for consideration by citizens who plan to attend the county listening sessions starting on April 7.
Volusia Forever is a model for the nation for the conservation of environmentally-sensitive lands. Its prior success is based on important features including: transparent procedures to rank properties under consideration for purchase; insulation from political influence; the ability to partner with other government entities in order to maximize dollars and results; willingness to work with national conservation organizations and local land trusts, and the decision to bond early to make funds available as needed.
The Alliance advocates for continuing and strengthening these key success factors, adding a prohibition against county council members directly negotiating land purchases, requiring independent appraisals of all properties, and not paying above-market value for properties. The complete list of recommendations is here: https://tinyurl.com/s4pbf2sx.
ECHO, which stands for Environmental, Cultural, Historic and Outdoor Recreation, has also been extremely popular but according to what the Alliance heard during the campaign, it can also benefit from some changes to improve transparency such as requiring all expenditures to go through the Advisory Board, and for public notice to be given before the County Council votes on a project. The program could be improved by making match requirements more flexible, too. In addition, the Alliance advocates for keeping the current annual trails set-aside of $1 million a year. You can read the complete recommendation here: https://tinyurl.com/s4pbf2sx.
Finally, the Alliance recommends that the County set up a dashboard on its website to include the results of the annual independent audits and to show progress against the key metrics that were part of the renewed Volusia Forever and ECHO programs,
About the ECHO Volusia Forever Alliance
The ECHO Volusia Forever Alliance, formerly the political action committee that ran the successful campaign for the reauthorization of both programs, is made up of individuals with expertise in all aspects of ECHO and Volusia Forever. Members include:
- Architects of the original ECHO and Volusia Forever resolutions and programs
- Former Volusia County Council members who supported and worked on the original campaign in 2000
- Former Volusia County staff, including administrators of both ECHO and Volusia Forever
- Former and current ECHO and Volusia Forever Advisory Board members
- Attorneys experienced in environmental and land-use law, and in ballot measures
- Leadership from organizations including
- Sierra Club
- League of Women Voters
- Florida Native Plant Society
- Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail
- Environmental Council of Volusia and Flagler Counties
Volusia Forever and ECHO are award-winning programs that were first approved by Volusia County voters in 2000, with a 20-year commitment. They would have ended in 2001 if not renewed. After grassroots efforts to place them on the November 2020 ballot, they garnered the greatest percentages of votes of any ballot item: Volusia Forever received 75.6% “yes” votes and ECHO, 72.4%. Transparency and a 20-year track record of delivering on promises were key to their successful reauthorization.
About Volusia Forever
Volusia Forever finances the acquisition and improvement of environmentally sensitive, water resource protection, and outdoor recreation lands, and manages as conservation stewards those lands in perpetuity. To date, Volusia Forever has preserved about 38 thousand acres that include: additions to Lake George Forest and Wildlife Management Area, Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve, Hickory Bluff Preserve, additions to the Volusia Conservation Corridor, Green Springs Park, and Long Leaf Pine Preserve.
Echo provides grant funds to finance the acquisition, restoration, construction or improvement of facilities to be used for environmental, cultural, historical and outdoor recreational purposes. ECHO projects include the Marine Discovery Center, The Athens Theatre, the Yvonne Scarlett-Golden Cultural and Educational Center, Jackie Robinson Ball Park and Museum, DeBary Hall Historic Site, the county-wide Master Trails Program, the Dewey O. Boster Soccer Complex and the Coraci Athletic Fields.