Sr ERL$3R& TiDes> Z-,
Why Florida will vote
on water amendment
The writer is director of the department of
interagency coordination for the Southwest
-Florida Water Manatement District, the water
,iegulstory agency for this region. Editorial, this
. By ELD. VERGARA
BROOKSVILLE- "There is notone issue
more important to the people of this state" on
the March 9 ballot than the constitutional
amendment on water taxes.
With the presidential primary getting most
of the attention, those words from State Sen.
Philip D. Lewis, D-West Palm Beach, are
But the words are justified because the ref-
erendum will affect one of Florida's most valu-
dable assets its fresh water supply.
v*. This article tells the story of why this
,, amendment came to be on the ballot
Before 1972, Florida had only two water
management districts, the Southwest Florida
District and the Central and Southern Florida
Flood Control District. Both were originally
created to build regional flood control devices
,-with the help of the federal government.
In the 1960s, population and industrial
'growth in Florida began to escalate at record
rates. It became apparent that water supply
Problems would be much more comprehensive
than those brought on by flooding.
Because of the growth-related demands for
-more and more fresh water during a period
,when a large part of the state was having a seri-
ous long-term drought, the Florida Legislature
passed what is known as the Water Resources
Act of 1972. This act expressed the Legisla-
ture'sdeep concern over the protection of Flor-
ida's fresh water resources. It broadened and
-strengthened the regulatory powers of the two
,-,existing water management districts and es-
-tablished three more, putting every square
m :ile of the state under the jurisdiction of a wa-
ter management district.
When the new districts were being estab-
S ished, it seemed logical from a hydrologic
viewpoint to transfer parts of the existing dis-
ntricts to the new districts.
These boundary changes to the two exist-
ing districts provided the basis for the
problems that have resulted in the critical
need for an amendment to the Constitution.
When the two existing districts were creat-
ed, the Florida Constitution permitted the
Legislature to authorize each to levy property
taxes. It was reasoned that water problems
- -were for the most part local or regional in na-
ture and, therefore, the costs of solving them
should be paid by those who would reap the
Benefits. Consequently, the laws that created.
the districts also established them as special
In 1968, Florida voters approved a new Con-
stitution. One of its provisions declared that
property owners could no longer be taxed for
new purposes without their explicit approval
Before a new tax could be levied, the 1968 Con-
stitution requires a majority of those who
would be taxed to vote affirmatively for it. And
the taxing authority of all special taxing dis-
tricts in existence when the new Constitution
went into effect was preserved. Only new dis-
tricts would be subject to the requirement.
The Water Resources Act of 1972 is well de-
signed and shouldbring abouteventual resolu-
tion of major water problems. But the changes
it prescied to the boundaries of the two exist-
ing management districts raised ominous ques-
tions. Wold the changes take away the taxing
power of the two existing districts?
How would it affect completion of the
multi-milion dollar federal projects which
requireetenive local participation and main-
tenance? Would thestate have to take over the
funding of these projects and could it afford
the $30-million annual costs represented by
the current budgets of the existing districts, as
well as the additional funding that would be
necessary for the new districts?
In January 1975, the Southwest District ini-
tiated a suit with Hernando County to obtain
an answer from the Florida Supreme Court..
CircuitJudge E. C. Aulls ruled that the pro-
posed boundary changes would so materially
revise the configuration of the district that it
Should no longer be the same district it was be-
fore the Florida Constitution was revised in
1968 In other words, if the boundary changes
required by the Water Resources Act of 1972
were to be carried out, the numerous flood
control, water supply and water resource pro-
tection efforts of both existing districts would
either be thrown into limbo or be put under
:the exclusive controls of the state. The case
now is on the wpy by appeal to the Florida Su-
When the 1972 law was originally passed, it
was never dreamed that the funding of these
programs would be jeopardized.
Managing water problems in southwest
and southeast Florida is one of the most impor-
tant functions of government today. It is going
to become more important throughout the
state as population continues to increase.
The amendment on the March 9 ballot is a
change to Article VII, which covers finance
and taxation, Section 9, on local taxes.
To the paragraph limiting property taxes,
it adds that taxes may not be levied in excess
of the following: "for water management pur-
poses for the northwest portion of the state
lying west of the line between ranges two and
three east, 0.05 mill; for water management
purposes for the remaining portions of the
state, 1.0 mill... "
Since the Southwest District (which covers
15 counties, including Pinellas) now has a tax-
ing authority of 1.3 mills for water manage-
ment purposes, adoption the amendment
would reduce taxing authority in that region.
The existing Central and Southern Florida
District, which includes all or part of 18 coun-
ties, now has a taxing authority of 1 milL So
the amendment would not change it.
Between them, the two districts contain 65
per cent of the state's population, 43 per cent of
its land and 56 per cent of its taxable property.
The amendment merely provides a legal ba-
sis for the 1972 water resources law. Whether it
passes or fails, water problems will continue in
Florida as the state grows. Some urban areas
are approaching the limits of their water sys-
tems, causing serious shortages. More and
more homes are being built on natural
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