By JAMES WALKER
Tribune Staff Writer
S When Florida's presidential primary
rolls around March 9, the most vital pop-
ularity contest on the ballot will not be
some big name politicos.
It will be ad valorem taxes versus the
state's five water management districts;
or more precisely, whether these dis-
Stricts may levy local real estate property
tpxes in order to function.
Piggy-backed to the presidential pref-
erence primaries, the question of
whether water management districts
may levy such taxes grew out of mis-
tales of the Florida Legislature.
WHATHAPPENED is this:
The 1968 Florida Constitution places a
30!mill cap (10 county, 10 city, and 10
school boards) on ad valorem taxation
but permits those special taxing districts
around the state such as port authori-
ties, and the like to continue levies in
force at the time of the adoption of the
This meant, for example that
Southwest Florida Water Managerient
District could continue its annual levy of
.up to 1.3 mills in any county within its
So far, so good.
But next came the 1972 Legislature to
pass the state water management act,
establishing five water districts for the
'entire state, and changing the bounda-
ries of the two existing districts:
SWFWMD and the Central and Southern
Flood Control District, situated in West
- THE BOUNBRY changes were mem-
And the courts have now ruled that
changing the boundaries destroys district
standings as special taxing districts, ex-
empt from the Constitution. The changes
deny due process to citizens on tax mat-
ters the courts held.
So, unless voters restore the ad va-
loren powers by a majority vote in the
March referendum, the water manage-
ment agencies stand to lose millions of
dollars in local revenues..
THAT'S BECAUSE the boundary
changes go into effect Dec. 31, 1976.
"It would wreck us." declared E.D.
Vergera, deputy director of SWFW MD.
Last year, for example, SWFWMD
collected .$9,281,513 in local real estate
taxes, which in turn went back into the
counties for various water projects, stud-
ies and regulation.
VERGERA, and L.M. Blain,'the dis-
trict's counsel, said that with local tax
revenues gone. the water agencies will
have to look to the legislature to replace
the lost fund This, they said, will mean
centralization of power and loss of local
voice in water agency matters.
It could also end local water manage-
ment improvements, now financed large-
ly by property taxes, they said.
The tax referendum, if it passes, will
trim the amount the districts could levy,
from a maximum of 1.3 mills to a max-
imum of one mill.
And m the P anhandle, which de-
manded separate treatment, the max-
imum would be one-twentieth of a mill.
"IT IS ironical to note that the first
area to have a real water and flood
problem after the legislature adjourned
was the Panhandle," Blain said.
He was referring to the hurricane
havoc along the coast last month.
The disparity in millage may set up
campaigns by Panhandle legislators to
seek a disproportionate share for their
counties from any state appropriation
for later management, officials said.
BUT -BLAIN and other legislature-
watchers will worry about that when the
They're most concerned now with in-
forming voters in the SWFWMD area
what the issue is all atiout.
If the referendum is approved. water
management in Florida will continue a
blend of local, state and federal effort,
they contend, with local officials setting
policy. If it fails, SWFWMD officials
said, water management will either suf-
fer a drastic cutback or receive replace-
ment revenue at the state level.
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