Title: A History of Water Management Districts' Ad Valorem Taxing Power Under the Florida Constitution
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/WL00002381/00001
 Material Information
Title: A History of Water Management Districts' Ad Valorem Taxing Power Under the Florida Constitution
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
Abstract: A History of Water Management Districts' Ad Valorem Taxing Power Under the Florida Constitution
General Note: Box 10, Folder 17 ( SF Water User Fees - 1987 and 1991 ), Item 8
Funding: Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
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Bibliographic ID: WL00002381
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text
r /i l rl

A History of Water Management Districts'
Ad Valorem Taxing Power
Under the Florida Constitution
By: L. M. Buddy Blain, Blain & Cone, P.A.

Florida's five water management districts are unique among
special districts within the state because of their ad valorem
taxing power. Many special districts created prior to 1968 have
authority to levy ad valorem taxes but, with the exception of
water management districts, all other special districts may only
levy ad valorem taxes if they have prior voter approval. Water
management districts have been granted express Constitutional
authority to levy ad valorem taxes within certain millage limits,
without referendums.

Today's five water management districts were preceded by Central
& Southern Florida Flood Control District (now known as South
Florida Water Management District). Created in 1949 and covering
18 counties, it was given authority to tax up to 1.0 mill.
Southwest Florida Water Management District, created in 1961 and
covering 15 counties had authority to levy up to 1.3 mills (0.3
mill for district purposes, and 1.0 mill for basin purposes).

Ad valorem tax revenues became the primary source of funds for
operating purposes for both districts while the state continued
to appropriate funds for the local share of federal public works
projects and for much of the land acquisition in connection with
those projects.

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 provision 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 & Southern Florida to continue its taxing

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 made an interim
division of the state into six districts, leaving unchanged the
boundaries of Central & Southern and Southwest. But legislators
made it quite clear that this was merely an interim step and
scheduled further changes in boundaries to reduce the state to
five districts. This would require changing the boundaries of

Jii I ~ i !ii

the two older districts, which might be construed to have created
new districts, thus losing the ad valorem taxing authority for
these special districts existing in 1968 when the Constitution
was revised.

Southwest filed for a declaratory judgment, seeking judicial
determination that the district could continue to levy ad valorem
taxes without voter approval after the proposed boundary changes.

The suit concluded in early May 1975 (while the legislature was
in session) with the court's final Declaratory Judgment finding
that: the boundary change (then scheduled for July 1, 1975),
would result in a different Southwest District from the district
that existed on the date of the 1968 Constitution, and thus, the
Southwest District would no longer have valid authority to levy
any ad valorem taxes within the district without prior voter

The ruling severely jeopardized on-going projects, contracts and
activities within the two older districts and the "new"
districts, Northwest, St. Johns, and Suwannee, could not be
authorized to levy taxes without prior voter approval. There
appeared to be a general consensus that the only solution was to
propose a constitutional amendment to authorize water management
districts to levy no more than one mill, without prior voter
approval. This would keep Central & Southern at its present
authorized level and reduce Southwest District's taxing authority
from 1.3 mills to 1 mill. The proposed amendment was drafted and
introduced in the,Senate, on May 9, 1975. On May 28, 1975, SJR
1061 was taken up out of order on the Senate floor and passed 28
- 7 and sent to the House for consideration. This version of SJR
1061 provided for all water management districts to have
authorization to levy up to one mill.

On May 29, 1975, it was read for the first time in the House and
on May 30, 1975, the Joint Resolution was read for the second
time in the House. This time an amendment was made which limited
the taxing power of the northwest portion of the state to .05
mills. Although done hurriedly, this was not a mistake or a
miscalculation. The northwest Florida legislators acknowledged
that there was a need for substantial funding for water
management in peninsula Florida but desired only minimal funding
for northwest Florida. This amendment was accepted and the
measure was read for the third time and passed 80 29. On June
3, 1975, the measure was accepted by the Senate in its amended
form by a vote of 22 to 13.

A separate bill was passed by the Legislature providing for a
special election on the proposed constitutional amendment to be
held in connection with the March 9, 1976 Presidential Primary.

_ I~ _

Subsequent to the n5 session a campaign supp. rtinq it was
begun, and presentations supporting the proposed 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"). This corporation was created to raise funds
to work for the passage of the amendment.

The entire budget of the corporation never exceeded $5,000-$6,000
and there was no paid advertising purchased to promote the
amendment. The entire campaign was extremely low-key and
engendered very little controversy. Several prominent public
officials debated on the merits of the proposal but it never
achieved major statewide recognition. Editorial boards of major
Florida newspapers were visited in support of the amendment.

The following summary appeared on the ballot:

"Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution
authorizing and limiting local taxes for water management
purposes to not more than one (1) mill."

The proposed constitutional amendment was voted on by 1,335,240
ballots, or 37.79% of the state's voters with 735,175 (55%)
voting "yes" and 600,066 voting "no". The constitutional
amendment carried in only 18 counties, however these were some of
the most populous in the state. (These also were the areas where
water management districts had been active for years.) The
amendment was opposed by 49 of 67 Florida counties or 73%.
Very few counties north of the Orlando area supported the

Approval of the constitutional amendment was the only time in the
history of Florida that voters approved imposing of ad valorem
taxation. Approval of the constitutional amendment meant a
stable tax base and an adequate financial basis for all districts
except Northwest Florida to carry out water management

The northwest portion of Florida was limited to a much smaller
(5%) ad valorem tax authorization. At the time it was stated
that the water problems were not nearly so severe as in the
southern portion of the state. (Interesting enough, if memory
serves accurately, the first severe flood occurring in the state
after the constitutional amendment passed was in the panhandle.)


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