Sunday, July 3, 2011

Were the basin boards killed because J. D. Alexander wants you to pay for Polk County’s water supply?

J. D. Alexander
It’s not as farfetched as one might think.  Consider this. 
J. D. Alexander inherited a lot of land and has a lot of family business interests in central Florida.  Everyone knows this.  Everyone also knows he has worked his legislative position to further those interests by trying to bring a major expressway (The Heartland Parkway) up from Naples to Polk County, by getting USF to start a branch University in Polk County (as the Senate’s budget czar, he personally squeezed $35,000,000  out of a state that is broke for the school this past legislative session.  Last year, he squeezed $46 million out of the state but then-governor Crist vetoed it.), and finally, he’s had much to do with the state’s support of SunRail (now inexplicably but nevertheless officially blessed by Governor Scott) to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and buying interests in companies that stand to benefit substantially by the CSX rail hub to be located in Polk.
Now, consider the little game played with Dave Moore, SWFWMD former executive director a couple of years ago when Rhonda Storms held up his senate re-confirmation.  I’ve been told (but have not confirmed) that she did it at JD’s request.  The question would be, why?
Rhoda Storms

Seems Dave was resisting JD’s interest in getting SWFWMD to support creation of a “regional” water supply authority consisting of just one county – Polk.  Despite the fact that a single county somehow fails as any possible definition for “regional,” JD wanted it declared so by the district and DEP anyway in order to qualify it for water management grant funding, funding that is derived from the property taxes you and I pay to the district.  Rhonda’s little ploy for JD apparently got the district’s attention.
After Dave’s appointment as executive director was finally re-confirmed by the Senate during the following legislative session (2011), the district was already well on its way toward completing its Regional Water Supply Plan, Heartland Planning Region (January 2011). 
This report describes plainly why getting new water for Polk County is so critical.  If it is to gain success from becoming the hugely important geographic epicenter where all paths between the major urban/commercial centers of Tampa Bay and Disney-Orlando will cross, it needs to find new water.  All of its “local” sources are reportedly tapped out including such alternatives as groundwater, surface water, sea water (from Tampa Bay), reuse water, and conservation.  Even buying water from Tampa Bay Water was given serious consideration.  
Obviously, finding new water would not only benefit Polk County but certain major land owners and families with many business interests there as well.
Thus, the report offers an extraordinary plan by which water could be imported from across district boundaries from an area still within Polk, I am told, but not within SWFWMD.  It would come from the “lower aquifer” located in eastern Polk County and under the jurisdiction of the South Florida Water Management District.
I am also told, the new director at SFWMD, Melissa Meeker, has already signed off on the concept.  One can only assume that she believes the water is there and the withdrawals will not negatively impact any nearby wetlands, lakes, springs, rivers or existing legal users, right?
On page 143 of the report, the capital cost of this massive project, which would provide water to multiple communities within Polk County, is estimated to be around $150,000,000. 
On page 147 of the report, the discussion turns to how the district would propose to pay for all its planned water needs, including the plan for Polk.  Significantly, the basin boards are listed as a primary source of funding for the district’s entire planned need of $1.2 billion for new water projects through 2030.  Of this amount the basins would provide $300,000,000.
J. D. Alexander is a master at bringing big things to Polk County.  Whether or not they benefit him personally is for others to be concerned about but for whatever reason he’s been very successful at doing it.  Bringing in a water supply that would meet the county’s needs for decades, under any circumstance, would be a very smart thing to do.  It’s how to pay for this and any of his other deals that gets bothersome.
In its report, SWFWMD has legitimized Polk County’s serious need for water and developed a plan for getting it.  But how does one get the property taxes controlled by the basin boards from counties like Manatee, Sarasota , Charlotte, Desoto, Highlands, Hardee, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Marion, lake, Levy, Citrus, and Sumter to pay for Polk County’s water supply?  Without the basins' tax revenues, SWFWMD would have great difficulty in doing what JD seeks, i.e., have the district pay for the lion's share of the Polk water project.
The answer is, it ain’t likely to happen.  The thought that a basin board for the Withlacoochee River, for example, would levy taxes upon its land owners to build Polk County a water supply is so far from reasonable it’s laughable.
But, what if the basin boards were disbanded in the interest of efficiency?  SWFWMD, like every other government agency, is under pressure to tighten up.  Lean up.  Reduce size.  Get back to its “core mission,” is the current favored mantra.  Frankly, the basin Boards are not the most efficient way to run a government, but if efficiency was the only acceptable criteria we would not be a republic operating as a representative democracy theoretically controlled by the will of 140,000,000 registered voters, would we?
Basin Boards may not be efficient but they are important. For 50 years, they have allowed the decision to tax property owners to take place at the lowest possible level within specific sub-taxing districts that are roughly based upon river watershed boundaries.  They are comprised of land holders who personally bear the brunt of their own decisions and know intimately the need for each project they fund with the taxes they levy.  And most significantly, the taxes that are levied can only be spent for purposes benefitting the basin from which the money was generated.
But what if the basin boards were rendered non-functional and the governing board had to assume the basins' taxing authority?  Would it be possible? All the governor would need to do is stop making appointments as current members’ terms expired.
If this were to happen, the governing board, which apparently doesn’t suffer the affliction of inefficiency, could declare itself the board of the district's one unified basin.  It would then be able to levy the basin tax uniformly across all the counties of the district without regard to any specific river watershed or county boundary as it does now for the district’s general operations.
So, here’s a theory.  Did JD get with the governor or his minions and convince them the basin boards were inefficient, persuade them to not appoint any new members and thus force the district to disband the basin boards and assume their taxing authority, thereby freeing up control of $300,000,000 to build Polk a water supply that would not have been possible otherwise?
My guess is, not in so many words.  I don’t think any of them are actually that smart.  But it could have evolved that way and probably did.  What was once so impossible is,in fact, now very much possible because this is exactly what is happening.
The Basin Boards of SWFWMD should not have been dismantled.  But if they have to be, why did the district do it so unannounced and so quickly?  Why didn’t they give the public reasonable notice, as required by law, informing them that the board members from their basin were going to be fired and that the taxing authority of their basin would be wrested away from them and over taken by a regional board that gets its marching orders from Tallahassee?
If all this bothers you, do something about it.
Communicate with your legislators, county commissions and the district governing board members.  Write emails and letters.  If you are fortunate enough to have a governing board member living in your area, call him or her and express your convictions.  Ask why it was done so secretively, quickly and without letting the affected public know or have voice in the matter.  Then ask them to re-establish the basin boards, this time with appropriate and reasonable notice.  And if there is going to be a meeting where this is going to be discussed by the governing board, ask them to let you know personally when and where.  Then be there and let your voice be heard.


  1. Glad to see that someone is willing to shine light on Polk county's ongoing efforts to get others to pay for their economic development strategy of cheap land, low taxes and low utility rates.

  2. Good work! Ever thought of becoming an investigative reporter in your sunset years? Our print media could use you!

  3. Well, this has been coming since you and I were around in '03 and '04------hasn't it? Seems like this ("regional" Polk County water supply) came up at several Peace Basin Board meetings back then? So if you are not going to run for Governor, how about investigative news paper reporter? If the public doesn't wake up soon, the self serving, Republican, wealthy folks are going to wring this country and the "average" taxpayer dry! Notice I said the "selfserving"---I am sure not ALL Republicans are terrible people----but the State of Florida is being sold down the road by the current state leadership-----all Republicans. Charlie Crist is looking pretty good!

  4. Thanks for the update, I’m not a JD Alexander fan either. As for contacting my local board of county commissioners, well that is out as well. They have the unique ability to turn a “no brainer” into a debacle with the wave of a hand. Who is my local SWFWMD Board member and what is their email address; maybe I’ll follow up with him or her or it, which ever the case may be.

  5. I think you are 100% right about the Basin Boards and I have been asking my Republican friends to let Scott know.

  6. How about doing some research on the governor's transition team. I will bet that will scare the crap out of ya!

  7. If those of us that understand (or think we understand) WMD’s do not stand up and be heard then I believe that next year’s session will be the end of the WMD’s. This is a bad and serious situation!!

    Thanks again for all you are doing.

  8. Great and gutsy memo. We are pawns and there is little we can do about it BUT it is time for a new middle of the road political party.

  9. Actually, a man presented this water for Polk concept to Jeb Bush in 2006, after he went on a trade mission with him. They were in a batch of emails I received from the DEP in 2005-6 from Director Castille's emails.
    Tampa with Iorio refused to redirect some of Tampa's water supply and they are still trying to buy it.