VWater boards' fight, still unresolved,
has homeowners paying double tax
By S PHEN NOHLGREN how to manage limited water Booth ruled that Swiftmud's gov-
St. Pe sburg Times Staff Writer supplies needed for agriculture, in- I earning board couldn't unilaterally re-
T: agency that decides when we dustry and growing urban areas. duce the basin boards' tax rates. But
can ter our lawns collected more During a recent drought, for ex- the governing board didn't want to
prop. ty taxes last year than it really ample, Swiftmud conserved water by give in. It appealed Booth's decision
need And this year may be no making Suncoast residents water and went ahead and doubled its own
differ nt. their lawns in the middle of the night. rates.
La t year's overcharge was no Since Swiftmud is spending more AS A result, both the governing
back eaker an average of $3.50 on and moreof ts moneonregionwide board and the basin board collected
a house, assessed at $75,000. But with projects, the governing board decid- taxes for the same work about
home:'.ners from Punta Gorda to ed last year to change how its taxes $7-million worth.
Crystal River paying a little extra, are collected. Swiftmud's governors The money was placed in an es-
the agency collected $7-million more doubled their own tax rate and, to crow account and invested in Trea-
than it needed. compensate, slashed taxes going to sury bills sort of like saving it for a
This money went to the South- the basin boards. rainy day. At the time, Swiftmud's
west Florida Water Management IT WAS largely a bookkeeping executive director Gary Kuhl said
District, an agency that regulates wa- change. Responsibilities didn't shift. the extra $7-million would be used to
ter use in 16 counties along the Sun- Overall, taxes stayed the same. But I lower the next round of taxes once
coast. the switch didn't sit well with some the suit was settled.
TH E WATER district mmbasin boards, three rural counties That was a year ago.
THE WATER district, common- and Florida Citrus Mutual, a power- Now, this year's taxes are about to
ly known as Swiftmud, is feuding ful growers' association. They joined be established, and nothing has
with some of its subdistricts over the together and sued in Judge Booth's changed. The lawsuit remains unset-
with some of its subdistricts over the tied. According to tentative budgets,
right to collect taxes. Until the mat- One was the influence t Swiftmuds governing board and
ter is settled, a judge in Hernando el over Swiftmu some basin boards again are planning
County has allowed both sides to governing board. Pinellas and Hills- to collect taxes for the same work.
collect the money, so taxpayers areboroughcounties each are guaran- Again, the disputed amount is about
getting soaked twice.rboouht counties eachae gba-dn $7-million.
Swiftmud Chairman Bruce A. teed two of nine seats on the board. 7-million.
Samson called the ruling by Circui That leaves only five seats for Swift- If Suncoast residents get taxed
CSort Judg e o n oh unn mud's other 14 counties. .wft- another $7-million extra, Swiftmud
Court Jge The makeup of the board is will have almost enough tax money
scionable. deadly to the little guy sitting out in sitting in escrow to carry on business
"I think it is outrageous for ta- the woods," said Patricia R. Pieper, a for a year.
payers in Pinellas or Hillsborou basin board member from Land
county to be required to put up mon O'Lakes. TWO THINGS could change
ey strictly because of Judge John Swiftmud Chairman Samson also that. A hearing is scheduled Aug. 29
Wilkes Booth," Samson said. sees the taxing dispute as a rural-ur- the double taxation. And the peo p
Samson, who is running for mayor ban issuethe double station. And the people
of Tampa, later conceded that "Rural and agriculture speci h n Swiftmd could change
Booth's ruling is only one cause for terests dominated the gov fing Budgs fon thr ow e
the double taxation. Swiftmud's gov- for 20 years," said. board and the basfor both the governing
earning board also has a hand in it. board a the basi boards wil be
discussed Sept. 4 at a public hearing
WHEN THE Legislature creat- *Th in Brooksville. The hearing starts at
ed Swiftmud in 1961, flood control e makeuP 5 p.m. at 2379 Broad St.
was its primary work.-The district of the board iS By Sept. 18, the budgets must be
was constructed from eight drainage deadly to the approved and the tax rates set.
basins located around rivers such as Spokesmen on both sides of the
the Peace, Hillsborough, Manatee little guy fight say they would like to stop this
and Withlacoochee. sitting out m double taxation by compromising.
Overseeing each drainage area is a But at this point, neither side says
"basin board," residents who recom- the woods. it's prepared just to back down.
mend projects for their particular Patricia Pieper, -
area. Both the basin boards and basin board member
Swiftmud's governing board are ap-
pointed by the governor, and both
have the authority to levy taxes. The "We are moving to change that. Agri
district board taxes for regionwide culture and rural interests see that if
projects, while the basin boards tax they cannot control and dominate !
for projects within their jurisdictions, the governing board, they want to i
Over the years, Swiftmud's work continue to dominate the basin i
has shifted from flood control to a boards."
more pressing regionwide problem: