The St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board approved a tentative budget today that reduces property tax revenues by 26 percent, a consequence of Gov. Rick Scott’s and the Legislature’s order to the districts to cut their budgets and scale back their responsibilities, with likely repercussions on conservation and environmental preservation.
- How Slashing Water Management Districts’ Budget 25% Endangers Our Way of Life
- Your Water Management District Tax in 2011: $42 (On Average, Anyway)
- Coquina Defund: Palm Coast’s Desalination Hopes Dry Up As Last Partners Drop Out
- The Water Management District’s Website
A new law that effectively reduces the water management district boards to advisory capacities requires the districts to submit their proposed annual budgets to the governor, the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House and the chairs of all substantive and fiscal committees in the Legislature, each of whom may object to portions of the budget. The law also sets limits on property taxes that the districts may levy.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District cut its budget 36 percent, the South Florida Management District, 30 percent. The Suwanee River and Northwest districts cut theirs by 8 and 0 percent, respectively.
The tentative $0.3313 per $1,000 in taxable value in the St. Johns River district will result in $85.3 million in revenue that will be part of a total $209 million budget that will also be funded with prior years’ state and carryover funds, timber sales, cattle leases, interest earnings, and permit fees. Under that rate, the owner of a $200,000 house with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $49.69 per year in property taxes to the district. All property owners in Flagler County are in the St. Johns Water Management District.
The district will fund fewer projects as a result, scaling back services and laying off employees. Salary and benefit cuts will amount to $12 million. Contractual services will be cut by $23 million. Operating expenses will fall by $3 million, and cooperative funding, such as the management district’s contributions to Palm Coast’s desalination project, will fall by $7 million.
Within its restricted means, the district will focus on the following priorities: Restoration projects to improve water quality and develop alternative water supplies; water supply planning, including water conservation, and minimum flows and levels prevention and recovery strategy development; water quality monitoring; land management, such as prescribed burns (though that is primarily to responsibility of the Division of Forestry), control of invasive exotic plants, and operation and maintenance of levees, locks and other structures; and permitting.
“It is a bit of an insult to the people of South Florida for the Governor to fly down on his private plane to offer the average homeowner a tax cut that amounts to less than 50 cents a week, just as our region is experiencing a water supply shortage of such great magnitude,” Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham said last month, when Scott signed the bill into law. “Since the water management district’s mission is to protect our natural resources and water supply, I’m not certain that gutting the agency in the midst of a massive water crisis is either smart politics or very good policy.”
Following on the heels of the resignation of the executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District director last month, whom Scott forced out, St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Kirby B. Green III, 61, today announced his retirement, to be effective no later than May 2012, after 10 years as the the top executive, following 23 years of service with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Green’s accomplishments at the District have included numerous water conservation initiatives, including the establishment of simpler, more enforceable watering restrictions and the implementation of cost-share incentives encouraging utilities and large water users to find more conservation opportunities; development of many projects to increase the reuse of treated wastewater and reduce the amount of nutrients discharged into the St. Johns River; and his ongoing support for water resource restoration projects, many of which can also serve as alternative water supply sources.
Public hearings on the tentative budget will be held at 5:05 p.m. on Sept. 13 and 27. Final budget adoption will occur at the Sept. 27 meeting.