Under the Florida Constitution:
A History of Water Management District
Ad Valorem Taxing Authority
A Guest Article By: L.M. "Buddy" Blain, Blain & Cone, P.A.
In 1968, the Florida Constitution was revised. One
change provided that the legislature could no longer
authorize special districts to levy ad valorem taxes
without prior voter approval. However, another provi-
sion stated that this prohibition did not affect the ad
valorem taxing powers of special districts existing
when the constitutional revision became effective,
thus allowing Southwest and Central and Southern
Florida to continue their taxing powers.
When the legislature enacted the Water
Resources Act of 1972, it mandated that five water
management districts should be created which
would include within their boundaries all territory of
the state, and directed the Department of Natural
Resources to study possible district divisions and
present a recommendation to the 1973 legislature. In
1973, in order to preserve the ad valorem taxing
authority of the two existing districts, the legislature
'I i made an interim division of the state into six
districts, leaving unchanged the boundaries of Cen-
L.M. "Buddy" Blain trial and Southern and of Southwest. But legislators
made it quite clear this was merely an interim step
and scheduled further changes in boundaries to
reduce the state to five districts. This would require
Florida's five water management districts are uni-changing the boundaries of the two older districts,
que among special districts within the state which might be construed to have created new
because of their ad valorem taxing power. Many districts, thus losing the ad valorem taxing authority
special districts created prior to 1968 have authority
to levy ad valorem taxes but, with the exception of
water management districts, all other special "This version of Senate Joint Resolution 1061 pro.
districts may only levy ad valorem taxes if they have vided for all water management districts to have
prior voter approval. Water management districts authorization to levy up to one mill."
have been granted express constitutional authority
to levy ad valorem taxes within certain village
limits, without referendums. for these special districts existing in 1968 when the
Today's five water management districts were Constitution was revised. Southwest filed for a
preceded by Central and Southern Florida Flood declaratory judgment, seeking judicial determina-
Control District-now known as the South Florida tion that the district could continue to levy ad
Water Management District. Created in 1949 and valorem taxes without voter approval after the pro-
covering 18 counties, it was given authority to tax up posed boundary changes.
to 1.0 mill. Southwest Florida Water Management The suit concluded in early May 1975 (while the
District, created in 1961 and covering 15 counties, legislature was in session) with the court's final
had authority to levy up to 1.3 mills (0.3 mill for Declaratory Judgment finding that: the boundary
district purposes, and 1.0 mill for basin purposes). change (then scheduled for July 1, 1975), would
Ad valorem tax revenues were the primary source of result in a different Southwest District from the
funds for operating purposes for both districts, and district that existed on the date of the 1968 Constitu-
the state appropriated funds for the local share of tion, and thus, the Southwest District would no
federal public works projects and for much of the longer have valid authority to levy any ad valorem
land acquisition in connection with those projects. taxes within the district without prior voter approval.
-'r7 kp (lr ) 4/j
The ruling severely jeopardized ongoing projects, for the passage of the amendment.
contracts and activities within the two older The entire budget of the corporation never exceed-
districts, and the "new" districts, Northwest, St. ed $5,000-$6,000 and there was no advertising pur-
Johns, and Suwannee, could not be authorized to chased to promote the amendment. The campaign
levy taxes without prior voter approval. There ap- was extremely low-key and engendered very little
peared to be a general consensus that the only solu- controversy. Several prominent public officials
tion was to propose a constitutional amendment to debated the merits of the proposal but it never
authorize water management districts to levy no achieved major statewide recognition. Editorial
more than one mill, without prior voter approval. This boards of major Florida newspapers were visited in
would keep Central and Southern at its present support of the amendment.
authorized level and reduce the Southwest District's
taxing authority from 1.3 mills to 1 mill. The propos- The following summary appeared on the ballot:
ed amendment was drafted and introduced in the
Senate on May 9, 1975. On May 28, 1975, Senate "Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution
Joint Resolution 1061 was taken up out of order on authorizing and limiting local taxes for water
the Senate floor, passed 28-7 and was sent to the management purposes to not more than (1) mill."*
House for consideration. This version of Senate
Joint Resolution 1061 provided for all water manage-
ment districts to have authorization to levy up to one The proposed constitional amendment was voted
mill. on by 1,335,240 ballots, or 37.79 percent of the
On May 29, 1975, it was read for the first time in state's voters, with 735,175 (55 percent) voting "yes"
the House and on May 30, 1975, the Joint Resolution and 600,066 voting "no". The constitutional amend-
was read for the second time. This time, an amend- ment carried in only 18 counties, but these were
ment was made which limited the taxing power of some of the most populous in the state. These also
the northwest portion of the state to .05 mill. were the areas where water management districts
Although done hurriedly, this was not a mistake or a have been active for years. The amendment was op-
miscalculation. Northwest Florida legislators posed by 49 of 67 Florida counties-or 73 percent.
acknowledged that there was a need for substantial Very few counties north of the Orlando area sup-
funding for water management in peninsular Florida ported the amendment.
but desired only minimal funding for northwest Approval of the constitutional amendment was
Florida. This amendment was accepted and the the only time in the history of Florida that voters
measure was read for the third time and passed have approved imposing ad valorem taxation. Ap-
80-29. On June 3, 1975, the measure was accepted proval of the constitutional amendment meant a
by the Senate in its amended form, by a vote of 22 to stable tax base and an adequate financial basis for
13. all districts, except Northwest Florida, to carry out
water management activities.
The northwest portion of Florida was limited to a
"The northwest portion of Florida was limited to a much smaller (.05 mill) ad valorem tax authorization.
much smaller (.05 mill) ad valorem tax authorization. At the time, it was stated that the water problems
At the time, it was stated that the water problems were not nearly so severe as in the southern portion
were not nearly so severe as in the southern portion of the state. Interestingly enough, if memory serves
of the state." accurately, the first severe flood occurring in the
state-after the constitutional amendment
passed-was in the panhandle.
A separate bill was passed by the Legislature pro-
viding for a special election, on the proposed con-
stitutional amendment, to be held in connection
with the March 9, 1976 Presidential Primary. Subse-
quent to the 1975 session, a campaign supporting it
had begun, and presentations supporting the pro-
posed amendment were made throughout the state.
A group of interested persons formed a non-profit
corporation to promote the amendment, naming
itself F.L.O.W., Inc. ("Florida Loves Our Water"). *Editor's note: The specific language of this ballot summary is
This corporation was created to raise funds to work credited to L.M. Blain. author of this article.