One day after the governing board passed Resolution 11-10, officially dismantling its basin boards that had been in existence for 50 years and firing 30 basin board members, the district’s general counsel was reviewing a proposal to change the law in order to make it permanent.
If you had any doubt about what the future could hold for the basin boards, a unique and valuable feature of SWFWMD, you won’t after reading the proposed change to the law shown below. See the bolded, underlined portions for the proposed language in red.
(1)(a) Any areas within a district may be designated by the district governing board as subdistricts or basins. The designations of such basins shall be made by the district governing board by resolutions thereof. The governing board of the district may change the boundaries of such basins, or create new basins, by resolution Notwithstanding the foregoing, as of the effective date of this subsection, all basins existing within, or designated or established by, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, except for the Green Swamp Basin established pursuant to s.5 of Chapter 61-691, Laws of Florida, are hereby abolished.
(b) No subdistrict or basin in the St. Johns River Water Management District other than established by this act shall become effective until approved by the Legislature.
(2) Each basin shall be under the control of a basin board which shall be composed of not less than three members, but shall include one representative from each of the counties included in the basin. Notwithstanding the foregoing, as of the effective date of this subsection, all basin boards in existence within the Southwest Florida Water Management District, except the Green Swamp Basin Board which is under the control of the district governing board pursuant to s.5(2) of Chapter 61-691, Laws of Florida, are hereby abolished, and their respective assets and liabilities, duties and authorities, including ad valorem taxing authority, are hereby transferred to the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District. For fiscal year 2012 through 2013, the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District may, if appropriate and pursuant to subsection 373.503(3), F.S., increase the maximum millage assessed for combined district and basin purposes to a millage no greater than the maximum total millage rate of 1.0 mill, by majority vote of the governing board.
Not only is SWFWMD wanting to dispose of the basin boards for good but it blatantly also wants the basin’s .5 mill taxing authority to be added to its own .5 mill district taxing authority. This would give SWFWMD a maximum authorized taxing capability of 1.0 mill, more than any other water management district in the state.
No more will that .5 mill tax be collected and spent solely within the basins in which you live. No more will it be controlled by basin board members who live within that same basin and who are subject to the same property tax they levy for projects they know are needed. No more will each county within the basin have a guaranteed representative on the board who resides within that county.
The draft language was proposed by senior district attorney Lori Tetreault in an email to district general counsel Bill Bilenky dated March 25, 2011, apparently at his request. Bilenky is now the district’s interim executive director appointed by the governing board after the resignation of David Moore.
The governing board adopted the now infamous resolution the previous day. A copy of the email was provided to me by the district in response to a public records request.
While it is not clear at this point whether the governing board has actually seen the language or will take any action, it is abundantly clear that the possibility is now on the table. There have been references in recent correspondence I’ve had with board members to possible legislation to “clarify” the controversy but there was never any indication that this, specifically, was in the offing.
The legislature will need to approve any such change in the law but with folks like J. D. Alexander holding the reins in T-Town and with a Governor who seemingly doesn’t understand or care about the ramifications, who’s to say the district will not be successful in having it happen?
Why would J. D. Alexander care? Because, as I’ve pointed out before, Polk County needs a water supply and this is the only way to get the taxpayers of 16 counties to pay the lion’s share, if not all, of its estimated $200,000,000 cost.
Interestingly, the proposed language could be suggesting something else. It could be signaling that the governing board believes it needs legislative authorization to fully abolish the basin boards thus explaining the official references by the board to “merging” them instead.
By merging them into the governing board and using the governor’s inability to appoint new members as an excuse, they have dismantled them. To complete the tax grab and abolish them, however, they need the law changed.
Thus, it may be even more than interesting that the district wants legislative approval to levy up to the full mill next year just when the money might be needed to get the $200,000,000 Polk project underway before the good Senator Alexander terms out. This, after the legislature and governor just cut the district’s budget 36%. Is the timing for this odd or what?
If now isn’t the time to begin cutting this flagrant tax rip-off at the pass by calling, emailing and snail-mailing your local legislators and demanding they oppose this, it never will be. Ask your county and city commissioners to communicate how they feel as well. The time to educate the legislators is now before they get their arms twisted in the wrong direction. Then, when legislative committees begin meeting in a few months, let them know again.
And, don’t be misled by district denials of any intent to approach the legislature, or that this was just conscientious lawyers trying to stay ahead of the curve and will not be considered further. Because even if that were true, it will be a consideration this next session. You can bet your last tax dollar on it.
You must let your legislators know how you feel.
By showing enough ire, instead of abolishing SWFWMD’s basins they could actually turn this boneheaded idea around and make them permanent instead. Wouldn’t that be sweet?