Sarasota County land acquisition programs to be focus of new outreach and education plan

Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department director unveils branding for initiative

This is the logo for the outreach initiative. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Before he had to step down from the Sarasota County Commission in 2022 because of term limits, Commissioner Alan Maio often emphasized just how much of the county’s acreage has been preserved from development through the decades-old, voter-approved Environmentally Sensitive Lands Acquisition Program (ESLPP) and the Neighborhood Parkland Program (NPP).

This year, as one of their Strategic Plan, the commissioners asked county staff “to develop and begin implementation of a communications and outreach plan to educate the community” about the county’s land acquisition programs, as a staff memo pointed out in the board members’ agenda packet for their regular meeting on June 4. The goal was to have that initiative launched by the end of June, the memo added.

The ESLPP and NPP utilize revenue produced by the annual 0.25-mill property tax that voters originally approved in the 1999.

“As of 2024,” the June 4 memo said, “ESLPP has identified and designated 32 diverse and environmentally sensitive areas within

the County for potential acquisition.” As a result, the memo continued, more than 40,300 acres have been protected countywide “through more than 90 land and conservation easement purchases. “Furthermore,” the memo said, “the NPP has acquired a total of 25 properties,” comprising 116 acres throughout the county.

Image courtesy Sarasota County

“Educating the community about the County’s land acquisition and management programs is vital to increase awareness, understanding, participation, stewardship, and support for the program,” the memo explained. “Transparent communication about the programs ensures that residents understand how their tax dollars are being used toward the protection of natural lands and the acquisition of parklands. In addition, building public support and understanding can contribute to the long-term sustainability of the ESLPP and NPP by increasing the possibility of future funding and community backing,” the memo noted.

In February, the memo pointed out, the staff of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department (PRNR) began developing “a comprehensive communications plan.”

Additionally, the memo noted, staff has updated the website ( and developed a  promotional video to inform the public about the programs.

This is a still from the new county video. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The June 4 memo also pointed out that the county parks website “includes updated maps and photographs of park locations acquired through these programs, such as Senator Bob Johnson’s Landing, Red Bug Slough Preserve, and Snook Haven Addition.” Further, the website includes media releases with about the county’s latest land acquisitions, the memo said.

During the June 4 board meeting, Nicole Rissler, director of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department, encountered a technical glitch as she tried to show the commissioners the video that staff has produced: The voiceover did not work.

“We tested [the video] this morning,” she told the commissioners. “It worked fine.” Yet, nothing she did during the meeting itself resulted in the audio’s becoming audible.

“I’m sorry,” Rissler said. “We’ll email it to you. … It’s a beautiful video.”

It also is available on the website cited in the memo, she noted.

Additionally, she pointed out, staff has created branding and a logo, along with a rack card/informational flyer. The flyer, Rissler noted, could be handed to anyone potentially interested in nominating property to be conserved through the ESLPP.

“We are working very hard to highlight the many things this program does,” she told the commissioners.

“Without being corny, Nicole, a picture’s worth a thousand words,” Chair Michael Moran responded. He could not wait to see the video, with the voiceover, he added, saying he believes that members of the public “will love to see it as well.”

During his entire tenure as a commissioner — he first was elected in 2016 — Moran said he has observed at homeowners association meetings and other events, “Whenever people get the knowledge [about how much land the county has protected in perpetuity], it really is a lightbulb moment for a lot of [them].” He expressed his full support for the communications campaign.

“It is a lightbulb moment, and thank you for lighting the way for us on this, Nicole,” Commissioner Ron Cutsinger added.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, the commissioners agreed last year to conduct another referendum, on the November 2026 General Election ballot, with hope that voters will support extending the ESLPP/NPP programs through 2029. That is the year the programs will sunset, as noted in the referendum materials when citizens voted on the property tax the second time, in 2005.

In early May, the board members also approved a question for this year’s Citizen Opinion Survey, which likely will focus on “how residents feel about further land preservation and how successful they feel the County has been in protecting lands,” a staff document explained.

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