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The county wants to buy another $200-million worth of land, with a 30-year payment period.

It sounds like a tough sell during a period of government budget slashing and an economic crisis.

Set aside about $600,000 in county property tax dollars every year to keep valuable open space from being developed. But that's what Hillsborough County voters will decide in November.

In 1987 and 1990, voters approved similar plans by margins greater than 70 percent. The program has protected more than 43,000 acres at a cost of $186-million, making it one of the nation's largest conservation programs.

"I hope the voters recognize the benefits,"said Kurt Gremley, the land preservation program's director since 1989.

A recent survey of 400 voters by the Tallahassee-based Trust for Public Land showed that 49 supported the measure, 28 percent opposed, with 20 percent undecided. But once they learned more about it, support rose to 68 percent, said Will Abberger, associate director of conservation finance for the group.

As stake is whether to extend the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program, or ELAPP, which is set to expire in 2011.

For every $1,000 of taxable property, about 25 cents is goes to the program, though the county may be able to cut that to about 18 cents.

In 1990, voters approved buying up to $100-million worth of land and paying it off over 20 years. The new ballot question would let the county extend the program and buy another $200-million worth of land, with a 30 year payment period.

State and Federal grants have added about $75-million in the past, helping preserve larger tracts. With land prices sliding, Gremley said, purchasing power is up, so more could be preserved, protecting water quality, sheltering wildlife, and saving open space for future generations to enjoy.

Fast facts

On the Web

- For a list of sites already set aside by the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program (ELAPP), go to:

- Check out a map of the ELAPP sites at :