Polk County residents may have to pay new tax to help clean up rivers, lakes

Tax rate could be as little as $5 a year

LAKELAND, Fla. - Residents in unincorporated Polk County may soon be paying for a new tax to help clean up the county's dirtiest rivers, lakes, and streams.

Environmental leaders have been pushing the county to do something about the problem for years.

On Tuesday, the county commission paved the way to slap the new tax on people who live outside the city limits.

"On behalf of my fellow citizens here, I can tell you strictly, no new taxes!" Said Richard Hilliard who lives in a mobile home park in Lake Wales. "We are taxed enough already."

Hilliard attended the county commission meeting on Tuesday to voice his opposition to the measure.

Studies show more than 30-percent of Polk County rivers, lakes, and streams do not meet water quality standards.

One of the biggest offenders is Saddle Creek, where buzzards have turned parts of the river into a dinner table.

"We've been implementing quite a few drainage projects over the decades, but the state laws and federal laws have picked up to the point where we're going to have to do more," said Jeff Spence, Director of Polk County Parks and Natural Resources.

Doing more will cost money.

The new storm water tax could cost as little as $5 a year for many property owners, but the rate has not yet been set.

Hilliard worries that could translate to a sizable bump in rent since the owner of his mobile home park passes on the expense.

"We're retired. Our working days are done," he said. "You have to learn to live with what you have. You do that with your budget, your family budget and everything else.  Government should have to do that, too."

Spence said, if approved, the money collected will go towards public education to keep the watershed clean, enhanced street sweeping programs, and other filter and drainage systems.

"No, we're not going to have crystal clear water no matter how much money we spend, but we can make a difference," he said.

The commission will discuss the proposed storm water tax again in the next couple weeks.

They are trying to find a way to offset the tax by lowering other fees.

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