Voters to decide water amendment
Editorial, this page.
SBy PATRICK McMAHON '
St. Potrsburg Time StaU Writer
Florida is a water-rich state.
Each year, the state's rainfall produces an
average of 150-billion gallons of water a day.
And, on a similar average day, we in Florida
are using a mere 2-billion gallons for all our
drinking water, irrigation and industry.
"PROBLEMS OF Florida's water re-
sources," the Florida Geological Survey said in
1963, "are not from the lack of water but from
not having the water at the place at the time it
is needed..." .\
Since 1963, those problems have only wors-
ened. There has been some deficiency of rain-
fall, but mainly huge increases in the growth of
the state and its demand for water. The result
has been a water management problem: How
do we satisfy all the demands and still preserve
our valuable water resources for the future?
In 1972, the Legislature attempted to come
Sto grips with the problem through the enact-
ment of the Water Resources Act of 1972
which broadened the authority of two existing
water management districts and created three
more to cover the entire state.
S On March 9, Florida voters are being asked
Sto approve a constitutional amendment to pro-
vide up to one mill of property tax each year
for water management purposes, except in
SNorthwest Florida where the tax would be lim-
ited to one-twentieth of a mill. (One mill
| equals $1 in property taxes for each $1,000 of
i taxable property value.)
THE MANAGEMENT of Florida's
abundant water resources has and will con-
tinue to be a difficult and extremely controver-
Ssial task. Therefore, while the amendment
seeks.only to provide an adequate funding
Base for water management, it has been caught
i up in the politics of water. -
Supporters of the amendment, including
Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, say that a tax-
supported funding base for water management
* is essential statewide, and the water manage-
ment districts provide a measure of local con-
Opponents of current water regulation,
such as some Pinellas legislators, foresee only a
Continuation of policies they oppose, and they
hope that a defeat for the amendment will pro-
voke a re-examination and restructuring ofwa-
Most of the Suncoastis now regulated by
the Southwest Florida Water Management
District, commonly known as Swiftmud. The
district and its local basin boards already have
a taxing power of up to 1.3 mills. The Central
and Southern Florida Flood Control District
'also has taxing power.
The solid lines on the
accompanying map show how
Florida is divided into five
water management districts by
Ithe Water Resources Act of S
1972. Shaded areas indicate
the two water management
districts that existed prior to
S1972. They were the Southwest
Florida Water Management
District (SWFWMD) on the
west and the Central &
Southern Florida Flood Control
District (C&SFFCD) on the
east. Both were originally
created as flood control
St. Potersburg Time FRANK PETERS
THE CONSTITUTIONAL amendment
is largely necessary to provide taxing authority
for the new water management districts. Swift-
mud and Central and Southern had their tax-
ing power before the 1968 Constitution, and
their power was preserved init. But the consti-
tution said that any new taxing districts must
be-approved by a referendum of those to be
The amendment would drop the referen-
Sdum requirement for water management taxes
up to one mill.
In setting up the new districts, the Legisla-
ture also changed the boundaries of Swiftmud
and Central and Southern. While the changes
Shave not taken effect yet, a circuit judge has
ruled that the boundary changes mean that
the districts themselves will change and will
lose their pre-1968 taxing power. Thus, the
amendment will also allow the'two districts to
change slightly and still have taxing power.
Supporters of the .amendment are hoping
for major support in the Swiftmud and Central
and Southern districts because those citizens
are paying water management taxes already.
They hope a large positive vote will outweigh
anti-tax votes in other areas.
IN ADDITION, they argue that the
amendment could mean a potential tax break
for Swiftmud voters. Supporters say the poten-
tial tax by Swiftmud will drop from 1 mills to
1 mill, although Swiftmud is now taxing below
one mill anyway.
SIf the amendment doesn't pass, supporters
,say that the Legislature is likely to rescind its
boundary changes and leave Swiftmud and
Central and Southern districts as they are.
Opposition to. the amendment has come
from several sources. Some persons oppose
new taxes. Some dislike the break that North-
west Florida voters will get But, particularly
in Pinellas County, objections are being raised
to existing regulation.
The nine-member Swiftmud board is ap-
pointed by the governor. By law, only one
member of the board may represent Pinellas
County, which has one-third of Swiftmud's
population and tax base. The Pinellas County
Commission has authorized a suit against
Swiftmud seeking to have the board reappor-
Stioned on a one man, one vote basis.
THE SWIFTMUD board is rural-
oriented and has unduly restricted Pinellas
County in its search for new water supplies,
county officials say.
The amendment will not provide anything
new for Pinellas County, opponents say, and if
it fails the Legislature might review and re-
structure water regulation in a way that could
benefit Pinellas and other urban counties.
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