Southwest ]FlCda pr-d
Water MarnagermeRzt District
P. O. BOX 457 BROOKSVILLE, FLORIDA 33512
DERRILL McATEER. Chairman. Brooksville THOMAS VAN DER VEER. Secretary, Yankeetown RONALD B. LAMBERT. Wauchula
J. R. GRAW, Vice Chairman. Ocala S. C. BEXLEY. JR., Land O'Lakes ROBERT MARTINEZ. Tampa
JOE E. HILL, Treasurer. Leesburg N. BROOKS JOHNS, Lakeland LEWIS H. HOMER. Clearwater
Donald R. Feser. Executive Director
"THERE IS NOT ONE ISSUE MORE IMPORTANT TO THE PER-E~C EIVED <
OF THIS STATE THAN THIS ISSUE OF MARCH 9" l --
-- Senator Phil Lewis JAN 2 9 1976
Tampa Tribune, Sept. 17, 1975
March 9, 1976, the date referred to by Senator Lewis, is the day Florida voters will
be asked to approve an amendment to the Florida Constitution that will permit the levy
of an ad valorem tax throughout the State for water management purposes. Senator Lewis
is concerned because if the amendment is not approved, the ramifications of its failure
could have far reaching effects upon Florida's most valuable asset--its fresh water resource.
The purpose here is to offer a general awareness of the history and a basic under-
standing of the issues involved.
Prior to 1972 there were two water management districts within the State, the
Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and the Central and Southern
Florida Flood Control District (C&SFFCD). Both were originally created as flood control
agencies to build, in cooperation with the federal government, regional projects designed
to protect large urban areas.
In the 1960's both population and industrial growth in Florida began to escalate at
record rates. It became apparent that the nature of water-related problems would be much
more comprehensive than those brought on by flooding and the two water management
districts became the primary agencies involved.
Because of the growth-related demands for more and more fresh water during a period
when a large part of the State was being subjected to a serious long-term drought, the
Florida Legislature passed what isknown as the Water Resources Act of 1972. This Act
expressed the Legislature's deep concern over the protection of Florida's fresh water rer
sources as municipal, county and industrial demands began to compete for fresh water
from the cheaper, but limited, local sources. It broadened and strengthened the regulatory
powers of the two existing water management districts and established three more, putting
every square mile of the State under the jurisdiction of at least one water management
When the new districts were being established, it seemed logical from a hydrologic
viewpoint to transfer parts of the existing districts to the new districts. These legislated
boundary changes to the two existing districts provided the basis for the problems that
have resulted in the critical need for an amendment to the Florida Constitution next
When the two existing districts were created, the Florida Constitution in effect at that
time permitted the Legislature to authorize each an ad valorem taxing capability. It was
reasoned that water problems were for the most part local or regional in nature and,
therefore, the costs incurred in resolving then should be borne by those who would reap
the benefits. Consequently, the laws that created the districts also established them as
special taxing districts with a limited ad valorem tax as their primary source of revenue.
In 1968, Florida voters approved major revisions to the State's Constitution. One of
the new provisions declared that property owners could no longer be subjected to taxes for
new purposes without their explicit approval. Before a new tax could be levied, it would
require a majority of those who would be subjected to the tax to vote affirmatively for it.
And significantly, the taxing authority of all special taxing districts such as SWFWMD and
C&SFFCD that were in existence when the new Constitution went into effect was pre-
served. Only new districts would be subject to the requirement.
By 1972, the riotous growth that had begun in Florida in the mid-sixties was reaching
a crescendo and all the classic problems associated with unrestricted expansion began to
appear, not the least of which were those associated with water.
The two existing districts meanwhile had grown as greater responsibilities were given
them by the Legislature and as local water problems became regional in scope. The major
concerns of the water managers also became paradoxical. On the one hand, as thousands of
new residents crossed the State line each week, developers were competing for the re-
maining waterfront property on every major lake and river. One promotional effort asked,
"Why live in Florida if you can't live on the water?"
Loss on natural floodplains and growing incidence of structural damage due to flood-
ing was the inevitable result. Minor rainfalls were beginning to bring anguished cries for
assistance as new Floridians learned the hard way that they had built in what was once a
floodplain. Problems were growing and in back of everyone's mind remained the question,
what's going to happen when a hurricane hits?
On the other hand, record quantities of water for consumption were being demanded.
Consumption of more and more water brought on by the tremendous influx of people and
industry was combined with a continuing long-term drought and tremendous stress was put
on existing water supply systems. The resulting competition for new supplies between
city, county, agricultural and mining interests underlined the need for an overall plan for
water development and more effective regulations. This, generally, is when the Legislature
stepped in and passed the Water Resources Act of 1972.
The law is well designed and should bring about eventual resolution of these major
problems but the changes it prescribed to the boundaries of SWFWMD and C&SFFCD
raised an ominous question. If carried out, would the changes mean the "grandfather"
status of the two existing districts would be nullified and their taxing capability lost? The
situation became increasingly complex as more questions followed. How would the numer-
ous and vitally important flood control conservation, regulatory and other water manage-
ment programs spread over the southern half of Florida be financed? How would it affect
completion of the multi-million dollar federal projects which require extensive local
participation and maintenance? Would the State have to take over the funding of these
projects and could it afford the (approximate) $30 million annual burden represented by
the current budgets of the existing districts, as well as the additional funding that would
be necessary for the new districts? And most significantly, if the State were to assume this
funding responsibility, would it mean the broad water management powers and responsi-
bilities now vested in regional and local Basin Boards would then be shifted from local to
In 1975, faced with a growing need for effective management of the State's water
resource but with no funds to support it, the Legislature postponed implementation of the
boundary changes until a more definitive analysis of the taxing problem was available and
the questions could be further clarified by judicial review. In January 1975, SWFWMD
initiated a suit with Hernando County in order to obtain a declaratory decree from the
Florida Supreme Court. The question was basically: will the District's change of boundary
terminate its grandfather status and cause it to lose its ad valorem taxing power?
Presiding Judge E. C. Aulls at a Hearing held April 29, 1975, in the Circuit Court of
the Fifth Judicial Ciruit of Hernando County ruled that the proposed boundary changes
would so materially revise the configuration of SWFWMD that it would no longer be the
special taxing district it was before the Florida Constitution was revised in 1968. In other
words, if the boundary changes mandated by the Water Resources Act of 1972 were to be
carried out, the numerous flood control, water supply and water resource protection
efforts *f both districts would either be thrown into limbo or be put under the exclusive
controls of the State. SWFWMD is currently in the appellate processes of putting the
question before the Florida Supreme Court.
When the law was originally passed by the Legislature, it was never dreamed that the
funding of these critically needed programs would be jeopardized or that the approximate
$30 million program now being carried by the two districts would be unexpectedly thrown
upon the State.
WHY IS THE AMENDMENT NECESSARY?
Every .person knowledgeable about the water problems occurring in southwest and
southeast Florida knows that water management is one of the most important functions
of government today and that it is going to become more so throughout the rest of the
State as population continues its historic climb upward. Management and protection of the
State's water resources are its lifeblood. Without continuous attention by trained scientists
its delicate qualitative and quantitative balances would be destroyed, and the cities and
industries that depend so heavily upon it would decline disastrously. State governmental
leaders realize this and have assigned responsible water management to the five districts.
Failure of the Constitutional amendment would prevent a predictable source of funding to
be realized by the three new districts and remove that now available to the two current
districts. The result would eventually be felt by every Florida resident today, as well as in
In addition, all involvement and individual input now being enjoyed by the average
citizen through the various Basin and Governing Boards over when and how water prob-
lems are to be solved would be lost if the amendment fails and the transfers are allowed
to take place. Local water management problems would have to compete with other state-
wide problems for the limited amount of tax dollars available. Approval of the amendment
will assure the many important water management programs needed throughout the State
will be possible as local residents define and request them. Finally, the amendment's
approval would prevent the use of taxes from one part of the State from being used to pay
for the problems of another.
HOW WILL APPROVAL OF THE AMENDMENT AFFECT CURRENT MAXIMUM
A vote for the amendment in SWFWMD's case will mean a reduction in the millage
allowed by the current law. For example, SWFWMD now has a maximum taxing capability
of 1.3 mills for water management purposes. This District is comprised df all or parts of
some 15 of the 68 counties in the State. C&SFFCD currently has a maximum taxing
capability of 1.0 mill and covers all or parts of another 18 counties. Between the two
districts they include roughly:
65% of the State's total population
43% of the State's total land area
56% of the State's taxable property
The current allowable tax levy would not be increased in these two districts. And since the
Constitutional Amendment would limit the tax levy to a maximum of only 1.0 mill, the
maximum for SWFWMD which is now 1.3 mills would actually be reduced. In other vords,
a vote for the amendment by SWFWMD residents would be a vote for a reduction in the
maximum allowable millage. Additionally, a vote for the amendment by C&SFFCD
residents would be a vote for simply maintaining their current 1.0 maximum village
needed for vital water management purposes.
HOW WILL A VOTE FOR THE REFERENDUM BE A VOTE FOR CONTINUING
LOCAL CONTROL OF WATER MANAGEMENT?
No matter what is said, water-related problems will continue to exist as Florida
grows. Rapidly expanding populated areas are fast approaching the limits of their indi-
vidual water systems causing serious water shortages. As the population increases, so will
the need for homes and supporting industries that must vie for the remaining land areas
which many times are natural floodplains and frequently flooded.
Water shortages and flooding are only two major water-related problems. From this
"tip of the gator's nose" the problems of water management spread into the lives of every
Floridian as does the need to resolve them. Resolution of these highly involved and con-
troversial matters takes money, money that can only come from one source taxes. It is
axiomatic that the further a taxpayer gets from his tax dollar, the less control he has over
why, how and where it will be spent.
The SWFWMD today operates on what is known as the Basin Board concept which
allows every District resident an opportunity to stay directly involved. There is a Basin
Board for each of the ten watershed basins of which SWFWMD is comprised. Every mem-
ber appointed to a basin board is a resident of a county within the basin's limits whether
the county is all or just partly within its area (each basin is aligned along natural watershed
areas such as the Peace River Basin, Hillsbrough River Basin, Withlacoochee River Basin,
etc.). And each county must be represented on the Board.
Each basin board has the responsibility to determine what problems exist within its
area and to develop a budget that addresses those problems. Taxes collected by the basin
board can only be spent for purposes that will directly benefit that basin. Members on the
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basin boards have traditionally been prominent long-time residents of the counties they
represent and are intimately familiar with the local problems they are called upon to
A vote for the amendment will preserve this basin board concept that is basic to
promises upon which this country was built.
March 9, 1976, is the day you, as a Florida voter, will be asked to decide if you will
support an amendment to the Florida Constitution that will permit a tax not to exceed
1.0 mill for water management purposes. You are sincerely urged to investigate and
become familiar with the facts and to vote your convictions. Should you have any
questions or seek additional information about this important matter, please feel free to
call E. D. Vergara at (904)796-7211 or write to SWFWMD, Post Office Box 457,
Brooksville, Florida 33512.