Battling water managers won't set
aside funds during budget dispute
By KIM KLEMAN Water management officials agree on one
Tribune Staff Writer budget matter, but are undecided about what
BUSHNELL They disagree of to do with a $7.3 million escrow account set
this year's proposed budget, but the
16-county Southwest Florida Water aside during last year's budget battle.
Management District and the watez
boards operating under its aegis of the Northwest Hillsborough Basin "There are some of us that are
agree they don't want millions of Board. Parsons said basin boards wondering when we're going to stop
dollars set aside while the budget can best oversee local projects. Los- keeping two books," Gary Coates,
battle is resolved. lag the right to oversee projects district budget manager, said in a
That was the consensus of repre- means losing power, she said. telephone interview about the ques-
sentatives of the policy-setting water The district's governing board tons that remain. Coates didn't at-
district, two local basin boards and a members, however, have said that tend the meeting.
circuit judge on Wednesday. many of those projects should be A hearing will be held in October
What they didn't decide, how- funded out of general district taxes concerning the lawsuit, officials
ever, was what to do with the $7.3 that all residents in the 16-county said.
million escrow account set aside district must pay. Taxes would be This year, the governing board
during last year's budget battle. cheaper and central control would has proposed a budget of about $30
Also, apparent differences in this be more efficient, they say. million, which includes funding pro-
year's proposed budget were left un- But until several questions are posals for each of eight basin
resolved at a meeting with the judge decided, Hernando County Circuit boards. That total is about $5 million
Wednesday that included district Judge John W. Booth last year ord- less than last year, according to
representatives and those who are ered that $7.3 million be placed in records.
s..ng them two basin boards, an escrow account. That money was The district proposes millage
three counties and several individu- the amount appropriated in both the rates ranging from .19 to .30 a mil
als. district and the basin boards' budg- equaling $1 dollar for every $1,000
The district, responsible for ets for the same projects. of taxable property depending on
water management in 16 West Cen- District officials said they were which basin board has jurisdiction
tral counties, is composed of eight disheartened that a decision wasn't over a resident's area The millage
basin boards, which control local made about last year's escrow ac- rates differ in the basins because of
water projects and have been fight- count at the Sumter County Court- different project proposals.
ing with district officials to retain house meeting Wednesday. Five of the eight basin boards,
that control. "I'm always disappointed that we however, want more than the dis-
A lawsuit, filed last year against continue to have it drag out," said strict's proposed budget calls for.
district officials by the Alafia and Gary Kuhl, executive director of the If the basin boards get what they
Northwest Hillsborough basin water management district. "I'd like want, the total budget would be ap-
boards, Hardee, DeSoto and Her- to get on with water management proximately $38 million, or about $8
nando counties and several individu- business. But I think it's excellent million more than the district's pro-
als, seeks to address whether the that they've decided not to have the posal. Millage rates would range
basin boards or the district should double taxation." from .19 to .49.
levy taxes for certain water projects. But an attorney said the basin
"Our overall concern is, who has boards won't press for another es-
the authority to levy the tax," said crow account.
attorney Bruce Snow, who repre- "We are not challenging the dol-
sents the three counties in the suit. lars in this year's budget," Snow
Snow, his clients and the other par- said.
ties believe the basins have that The district must hold two public
right. hearings before a proposed budget
"Ad valorem taxes collected in can be approved. The first is sched-
our basin should be spent in our uled for Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 5 p.m.
basin," said Gail Parsons, a member at the district headquarters, 2379
Broad St., Brooksville.
The second meeting will be held
Wednedsay, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. at the
district's Tampa office, 7601 US.
Highway 301 in the Florida Depart
meant of Environmental Regulation1