BRIEFINGS Ta xw
1114 Thomasville Rd. I P.O. Box 10209 N Tallahassee, FL 32302 0 Phone: (904) 222-5052 0 FAX (904) 222-7476
Dominic M. Calabro, President and Chief Executive Officer
Volume IV, Issue 4 September 15, 1993
Three Water Management Districts Propose Tax
Increases for 1993-94
Up to 4 times faster than growth in Florida personal income
After a few years of stable millage rates, three of the five water management districts have proposed
millage rate increases for the 1993-94 fiscal year. The St. Johns and Southwest Florida water
management districts asked their boards of directors to adopt 55% and 33%, respectively, increases
in millage rates for 1993-94. Although a millage rate increase of 33% may amount to only a few
extra dollars a year in taxes for most households, such an increase is 4 times greater than the
growth in Florida personal income, 11 times greater than inflation and 16 times greater than
projected growth in population.
The South Florida Water Management District had proposed increasing its overall millage rate by 18%,
or .1 mills, but has since reduced its proposed increase to .05 mills. Only Suwannee River and
Northwest Florida water
management districts did Table 1: Statutory Ceilings on District Millage Rates:
not propose raising Subsection (3)(a) of Section 373.503
village rates. The District Ceiling Proposed for 1993-94
Northwest Water Northwest = .05 .05
Management District is Suwannee River = .75 .517
still constitutionally limited St. Johns River = .6 .555 amended to .47
to .05 mills, a level at Southwest = 1.0 .427
South Florida = .8 .647 amended to .597
which it has functioned
for several years as the
other districts have increased their millage. Table 1 shows the proposed millage rates for each water
management district compared to its statutory cap and Table 2 shows the increases in proposed
millage rates and projected ad valorem revenues for the St. Johns, Southwest Florida and South
St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD)
Under the originally proposed millage increase, the projected increase in ad valorem tax revenues for
1993-94 was $20.257 million, a 59% increase ($34.243 million to $54.680 million). The proposed
millage rate of .555 mills would have been very close to the statutory cap of .6 mills for the district.
St. Johns planned to increase its general operating budget 16.5%, from $65.8 million to $76.7 million.
The largest total spending increases were budgeted for:
* computer system improvements 408%, $2.6 million increase;
* hydrologic monitoring 44%,_$1.1 million increase;
* project operations and maintenance 45.9%, $1.1 million increase;
* general administration 12.7%, $1 million increase; and
* motor pool expenditures 41.1%, $1.1 million increase.
SJRWMD also proposed to create 62 new positions: an 11% increase in its work force.
When the public became aware of the proposed budget, citizens and local government officials
decided to take action. A group calling itself "Ax the Tax" made it clear to the district that the citizens
would not put up with a 55% tax rate increase when spending was increasing on what the group called
"frivolous" items in the budget. Ax the Tax was successful in getting the board to reduce the village
rate increase from 55% to 31% and hopes for a further reduction at the next budget hearing. This
reduction in the millage increase will save taxpayers approximately $8 million.
Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD)
The SWFWMD proposes to increase its millage from .322 to .427 mills (a 32.6% increase), increasing
estimated general fund ad valorem revenues 35%, from $34.539 million in 1992-93 to $46.608 million
According to the district's budget office, the millage increase will be used to create a $10 million fund
to provide seed money to address the district's water shortage problems by getting local governments
more involved in conservation efforts and "new" water sources such as desalinization plants and re-
The citizens of the Southwest Florida Water Management District are contesting the proposed 33%
millage rate increase. So far, 36 local governments have passed petitions against the tax hike and
several others are expected to join the effort before the next budget hearing on September 28.
South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)
The South Florida Water Management District originally proposed increasing ad valorem millage for
the district 18%, from .547 to .647 mills, but recently cut the increase in half resulting in a proposed
millage rate of .597. The district claims the additional tax revenues raised from the .05 mills are to be
used exclusively for the Everglades restoration project.
Table 2: Ad Valorem Tax Revenues as Collected in 1993 and Proposed for 1994 ($ Millions)
Without % Growth
St Johns River' 1992-93 1993-94 increase With and Without increase
Ad Valorem Revenue: $34.423 $54.680 $35.271 59% 2.5%
Millage: .358 .555 .358 55%
Ad Valorem Revenue: $34.593 $46.608 $35.081 35% 11.4%
Millage: .322 .427 .322 33%
Ad Valorem Revenue: $121.58 $134.38 $123.63 11% j 1.7%
Millage: .547 .597 .547 9.1%
1. New budget data was not available for the amended millage rate of .47.
2. Includes the Okeechobee basin.
While the taxpayers demand lower tax increases, the water management districts feel compelled to raise taxes.
How can the districts deal with increased unfunded mandates and decreased state funding of district
operations? The water management districts suggest there is no option other than raising taxes so that current
levels of service can be maintained as new responsibilities are added. However, other public and private
entities have found ways to operate in tight fiscal environments by exercising thrift, prioritization and elimination
of bloated bureaucracies.
Florida TaxWatch applauds the rightful vigilance of the citizens and their respective local governments for
standing up for their right to be heard in a political system that virtually isolates the water management districts
from any substantive accountability to the taxpayers. The citizens of these water management districts have
shown that proposed tax increases will be scrutinized. In the past, a slow sometimes imperceivable growth
in the rate and a substantial increase in the ad valorem base has whetted the districts' appetites for tax dollars.
Increased state oversight of the districts must be combined with some form of district accountability to the
taxpayers in order to regain control of the districts taxing and spending practices.
Citizens will continue to demonstrate their disapproval of the districts' lack of accountability. Florida TaxWatch
has supported additional oversight on district activities and expenditures for several years, and is pleased to
help make sure that the voice of the citizens is heard by the districts. In an upcoming report, TaxWatch will
highlight some possibilities for increasing oversight and accountability of the water management districts.
Officials must be able to justify tax increases and listen to the response of the citizens.
This report was researched and written by Douglas W. Wager, Research Analyst,
under the direction of Dr. Neil S. Crispo, Director, Research and Operations.
Buell G. Duncan, Jr., Chairman
Dominic M. Calabro, President and Chief Executive Officer
Edited by Catherine M. Haagenson and Bob Stiff
-- Copyright Florida TaxWatch, Inc., September 1993
Florida u.S. POSTAGE
Inc. TALLAHASSEE, FL
Permit No. 409
TMu, T. M. "Buddy" Blain
Mr e L P A.
1114 Thomasville Road Blain & CSone, P. A
P.O. Box 10209 202 Madison St-ee _
Tallahassee, FL 32302 Tampa FL 33602
Phone: (904) 222-5052 \3
Fax: (904) 222-7476