THE TAMPA TRIBUNE
Sunday, September 23, 1984
Struggle between basin boards,
district a costly issue
By PATRICE FLINCHBAUGH fresh water is likely to accelerate as more people relo-
Tribune Staff Writer cate to this strip of the Sunbelt.
"Water's the only salvation of Florida," said a farm
One year ago, had you asked the average person supply store owner in Wauchula.
what "basin boards" were, he or she might have guessed State officials, including Gov. Bob Graham, want to
they had something to do with laundry or plumbing. draw control of Florida's precious water supply closer
But property taxpayers in 16 counties soon may be to the gubernatorial appointees serving on five regional
finding out. water management districts. The idea is to prevent
That's because taxes have doubled or nearly tripled squabbling about such things as new well fields, flood
under the category called "Water Management District" control or regulation of wetlands.
due to a power struggle between those eight local water In addition, administration of water-supply and
control boards and their parent, the Southwest Florida water-pollution regulations is being turned over grad-
Water Management District in Brooksville. ually to the water management districts from the Flor-
A house assessed at $163,000 in Hillsborough County ida Department of Environmental Regulation, accord-
paid $50.53 to the district in 1983. This year, that tax bill ing to DER Secretary Victoria Tschinkel. With it goes
will be $133.66. Costs to a house worth $47,900 will in- the cost of those programs, too.
crease from $6.41 to $10.53. "Everywhere else in the state, we're trying to estab-
The internal struggle in the District boils down to lish regional water boards that can coordinate easily
with Tallahassee," said Tschinkel in an interview. "Gov-
ernmentally speaking, it becomes a question of how
Taxes have doubled or nearly many divisions there can be."
tripled for property owners in 16 The southwest district's governing board and staff, in
keeping with the state's philosophy, and foreseeing
counties due to the internal power heavy administrative costs, first thought to abolish the
eight basin boards and create citizen advisory panels.
play. The move would have transferred the taxing power of
the eight basins to the district's budget-makers. Histori-
cally, 75 percent of one mill has been reserved for the
who will make decisions in the future about how to keep basin boards to levy in each county; the district was lim-
drinking water clean and plentiful in the southwest re- ited to 25 percent.
gion of the state. The dispute also involves who will con- "They became concerned it would be very difficult
trol the pursestrings. to handle the responsibilities the governor wanted them
Crowded coastal communities already compete with to handle," said Tschinkel. "Bruce (Bruce Samson, the
agriculture, industry and neighboring residents for ac- southwest district's chairman) has told me it simply isn't
cess to salt-free ground water underlying the interior See BOARD, Page 2B
counties. Saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico long agu in-
truded into the wells of many coastal towns. Demand for
Boa d (running for mayor)," said Samson
Boara in an interview. "The man on the
street doesn't pay much attention to
* From Page 1B this. All we've done is manage to of-
fend some powerful people. Actual-
possible to manage those programs ly, this is to my disadvantage if I '^ :
without regional control. It was were to decide to run. If my desire
becoming an unmanageable situa- to be mayor were overriding, I
lion." wouldn't be involved."
Plans changed, though, after a Samson said his overriding con-
strong uproar from eight state legis- cern as chairman of the district's
lators, six County Commissions, legislative committee last spring was
farmers and citrus growers. Some the potential for conflict between
basin board members, who also are the local water boards, with their
appointed by the governor, objected, taxing ability, and the district as
The district managers decided in- both moved into an era of compli-
stead to leave the basin boards in- cated water-supply and regulatory
tact, but to usurp much of their tax- problems. Even the agency's ac-
ing power. Enough millage was left counting system had become cum-
for the basins to fund projects of a bersome. "We began to question how
local nature. efficient that was. Rep. Fred Jones said he didn't
Opponents still aren't too happy "The legislation wasn't 'snook- realize the bill he voted on
with the district's decision, ered,' as some think, but the percep- would result in major revision
"My feeling is one of disappoint- tion is held by the legislators," said of the basin boards.
ment in the whole hullabaloo," said Samson. "I talked to the Speaker
Rep. Fred Jones, whose constituents and told him we needed legislation.
live in Polk and Osceola counties. We did not view it as controversial.
Rural counties and agricultural Said Tschinkel, "The legislative
landholders abhor the thought of delegation speaks to me about it and
giving more power to state bureau- their main concern is they feel they
crats. They want to keep govern- weren't treated fairly."
ment, particularly expenditure of Several legislators, particularly
property tax dollars, as close to the state Sen. Pat Frank and Reps.
people as possible. The best way to Chuck Smith and Jones, testified be-
preserve local citizens' control over fore the governing board in July that
water is to retain this region's they had not understood the full in-.
unique system of local water boards, tent of the legislation, that it was
according to attorneys for citrus and billed as a housekeeping measure. t
rural counties' interests. "The fact that I'm recorded as
"Some of the counties wouldn't voting 'yes' on a bill presented as
have come in (to the district when it cleanup legislation but turns out it's
was formed in the 1960s) unless it a major revision in the basin boards,
was that way," said former district well, here I sit with egg on my face,"
chairman Derrill McAteer of said Jones in an interview. "This was
Brooksville. a premeditated effort on the part of
"It was to assure a lot of rural the chairman and majority of the Bruce amson, southwest
counties they would have fair and board to change the statutes and district chairman, wanted
equal taxation," said McAteer. "You then abolish the basin boards... This legislation to update operation
get all this taxation in nine hands is a direct reduction in representa- of the district.
and it can be wheeled and dealed in tion and I object to it."
Tallahassee to give money to the "I don't believe it was, but to the s
governor to help with his environ- degree the legislation was hidden, it j
mental police force." was done so because if the rural
As a result of a lawsuit filed counties found out they had (basin f ,
against the district, the state's courts board) appointment powers, even
likely will decide how to balance though they never exercised them, I
millages between the district and felt there might be a conflict," said
the basin boards for the coming Samson.
year. The lawsuit was filed by Har- A provision of the 1961 Special
dee, Hernando and DeSoto counties, Act, which established the Southwest
the Northwest Hillsborough Basin District and its basin boards, re-
Board, numerous individual basin quired counties to recommend basin
board members, Florida Citrus board appointments to the governor.
Mutual, and McAteer. In Hillsborough County, that power
How the partnership operates be- has not been exercised In recent
yond that point is likely to be deter- years, according to County Commis-
mined by the Legislature in 1985. At sioner Jan Platt.
least one representative is preparing The statute under which three
a bill to ensure basin boards are not subsequent water management dis-
abolished. tricts were formed in 1976 says
Property taxpayers, in the mean- basin board appointments will be Derrill McAteer is among those
time, will be caught in the middle by made by the governor, subject to who has filed suit against the
having to cough up enough money to Senate confirmation. Southwest Florida Water
cover the wish lists of both sides in The district's housekeeping bill Management District.
the feud. Should the dispute be re- repealed all Special Act provisions
solved, district officials say the ex- addressing Southwest's basin boards. "I don't believe in centralized
cess $7.3 million collected in the 16 That bill originated in the House government. It doesn't represent the
counties could be refunded or ap- Natural Resources Committee in average individual."
plied to next year's budget. early April, but a Senate version Mary Kumpe, Sarasota's repre-
<. <, O passed on June 1, the last day of the sentative on the governing board,
session, decried the damage that might be
Bruce Samson is caught in the "The real thrust was to make the caused by prolonged bickering. She
middle, too. basin boards advisory and let the said the common goal is "protecting
Samson, an investment banker in Legislature sort it out," said Samson. the life source."
Tampa and a distant cousin of Gov. Ronald Lambert, a governing "I am so concerned about all the
Graham, is chairman of the district's board member and nurseryman, concerns in this state with its in-
governing board and the man who voted against restructuring the basin creasing population, that I think
convinced House Speaker Lee Mof- boards' budgets. But he acknowl- water is too important to fight over.
fitt earlier this year that laws edged a need to change the basin Every single one of us needs water,"
needed revision to update operation board boundaries, said Kumpe, who voted in favor of
of the Southwest Florida Water Man- "There's a possibility that some the restructured basin budgets.
agement District. basin boards need to be combined ... She also said she didn't think the
The end result may have dented for taxing reasons and even distribu- governing board did anything to be
Samson's political desire to be the tion of the taxes," said Lambert. politically popular.
next mayor of Tampa. "Some areas have greater need for "The politically popular thing to
ri am seriously considering It water supply projects, do was to do nothing."