To the editor:
As a former member of the "Blue Ribbon Committee" which was asked by the County Commissioners to look at the 20-20 Program and offer recommendations on how to improve the program, I would like the public to know our Committee came up with 16 recommendations for improvement.
To date, the Commissioners have just started to act on some of those by passing a new ordinance which now requires two appraisals for land purchases over $500,000 and if there is a 20 percent or more difference in the two appraisals, a third appraisal will be required similar to what the state does when it purchases "Environmentally Sensitive Land." As a member of that committee, I pointed out that the County had paid any where from $500 an acre to as much as the equivalent of a million dollars an acre for some small parcels. I also reported the average spent by the state when it bought 1,083 acres for the Corkscrew Regional Ecosystem Watershed was $3,618 per acre and the 2,423 acres purchased for the Pennsuco Regional Mitigation Area was $3,812 per acre. That compares to 23,821 acres purchased by the county for $12,037 per acre through year 2010. In other words we were paying more than three times as much per acre as the state has been paying.
Another fact the public should know about is that the total government owned land in Lee County (That is federal, state, county and municipality), continues to grow and recently stood at 119,662 acres. That equates to 23 percent of the total 514,560 acres of land area in Lee County. I would ask "At what point do we say we have enough government owned land?" I also discovered that the prior Commission allowed people who were selling land to the county, to also serve as members of the CLASAC committee which was the committee that recommended what lands should be purchased. I saw that as a potential conflict of interest and the other committee members agreed with me. As a result, that person withdrew from CLASAC.
Finally, I suggested that a new Binding Referendum on the 20-20 program was needed and prior to voting, the public should be told that $30 million a year would be required to care for the over $300 million of land already purchased by the county. That is what county staff told us was needed. We suggested that the county should hire an outside financial analyst to show how properties currently owned, may be properly cared for perpetually at the lowest possible cost.
It is my feeling that the public should be presented with all of these additional facts before we vote once again to either continue or terminate the program.