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Much Slimmer Water Management District Approves Lower Tax Rate Imposed From Above

| September 28, 2011


The St. Johns River Water Management District’s Governing Board gave final approval today to a budget that reduces its property tax revenue by 26 percent for the next fiscal year and lowers taxes for property owners while funding the agency’s highest priorities. Among the casualties: funding for Palm Coast’s desalination project, which Palm Coast has shelved for now.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature pressured management districts across the state to reduce their tax rates and revenue and lay off personnel. The St. Johns district saw the following 95 lay-offs, by department:

Environmental Resource Permitting: 21
Executive: 8
Finance/Admin: 7
Information Resources: 1
Operations/Land: 15
Resource Management: 23
Water Resources: 20

In addition, 24 staff members took a buy-out before June 30, and 20 vacant positions were eliminated.

Palm Coast City Council member Frank meeker, an ombudsman with the district, was among those laid off. He lobbied to get his job back, and did.

At a public meeting Tuesday, the Board approved a 0.3313 millage rate that will generate $85.3 million in revenue for a $204.7 million budget. The budget also will be funded with prior years’ state and carryover funds, timber sales, cattle leases, interest earnings and permit fees.

The approved budget is 16.4 percent less than the current fiscal year 2010–2011 budget. The new budget year begins Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2012.

The budget reduces the property tax rate by 20 percent over the current year’s millage rate. Under a 0.3313 millage rate — 33.13 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value — the owner of a $200,000 house with a $50,000 homestead exemption will pay $49.70 per year in property taxes to the District.

“The District has met the challenge of developing a budget that funds our highest priorities, maintains a strong commitment to water resource protection and provides some financial relief to taxpayers,” said Governing Board Chairman Leonard Wood of Fernandina Beach.

The adopted budget funds priority restoration projects at Fellsmere Water Management Area, Lake Apopka North Shore Restoration Area and C-1/C-10 rediversion to improve water quality and develop alternative water supplies. Nearly 38 percent of the budget will provide funding to local cooperators to implement projects in support of water resource and water supply projects and surface water restoration projects.

In addition, the budget provides funds for continued water supply planning, including water conservation, and minimum flows and levels prevention and recovery strategy development. To increase efficiencies and save tax dollars, the District will restructure and consolidate several programs to improve water data collection and analysis.

The District says it will also continue its commitment to science-based data collection by funding water quality and quantity trend monitoring to ensure that appropriate data continues to exist on which to make sound scientific decisions.

Other highlights of the new budget include a streamlined and enhanced permitting process and a continued responsibility to District land management activities, such as prescribed burns, control of invasive exotic plants, and maintenance and improvements of levees, locks and other structures.

Budget reductions were made in contractual services, salaries and benefits, cooperative funding and operating expenses.

The complete work plan and budget is available here or below.

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