The Slow Defunding of the SFWMD, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

Does the SFWMD losing power if every year they have less money, not to mention how to use this money? Of course. (Picfont image, 2015)
Is the SFWMD losing power if every year it feels it must levy less money to make Tallahassee happy, not to mention the District’s  ability to determine how to use that money?..And doesn’t this mean that on a local level we are losing power too?  (Picfont image, 2015)
Sewall's Point SLR/IRL from the air 7-14-15. (Photo Ed Lippisch)
A beautiful Sewall’s Point SLR/IRL from the air 7-14-15. No dumping from Lake O or area canals show what the area is meant to be. Under the water much recovery is still needed. (Photo Ed Lippisch)

 

Well it’s great to be home! When it is beautiful here along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon there truly is “no place like home.” It’s hard to put a price tag on this…

How much are beautiful water, high property values, a healthy environment, recreational opportunities, and a plethora of fish and wildlife worth anyway?  For me, it is “priceless,” and therefore it is worth spending money on.

Today in the “Stuart News,” Tyler Treadway wrote an article entitled “Water District Lowers Tax.”  Lowering taxes always sound good but as with everything in life, “there is a price.”

According to the South Florida Water Managements District’s  ( SFWMD) website: “The annual budget funds the agency’s core flood control and water supply missions as well as its continued progress to restore and protect the South Florida ecosystem.”

Just out of curiosity I did some research.  Of course millage rates and property values   determine taxable value, and years  must be compared “in context”–but nevertheless it is interesting to compare and contemplate:

Here are the budget number from the SFWMD since 2007:

2007: 1.439 billion

2008: 1.283 billion

2009-2010: (did not find separately) 1.5 billion

2011: 1.07 billion

2012: 576.1 million

2013: 567.3 million

2014: 622 million

2015: 720 million

2016: 719,300 million (This number is based on Mr Treadway saying the value, if approved, would be 700,000 less than the previous year-so this is just a very soft estimate.)

Yes, building up to 2007 we were in a “bubble.” We can see that after the Financial Crisis (2008) and Gov. Scott coming to power shortly thereafter, the budget numbers drop drastically around 2012.

We can also see that the numbers have gone up the last couple of years but this is because thankfully our property values have increased. In fact as Tyler Treadway notes the millage rate has gone down over the past four years. This means final budget number is “less that it could be if the millage rate were left the same instead of going to its “roll-back rate.” A rate that allows a taxing agency to generate the same amount it did the previous year. Confusing. Basically the budget number could be higher if they just leave the millage  number  the same.

Governor Scott has certainly kept his word about cutting taxes. This is impressive. But have the Governor and the Legislature gone too far? I think so.

Why?

The first reason is because I believe a lot of “this change” was based on an emotional reaction…

Basically, the 2008 Governor Charlie Christ plan to buy out US Sugar’s land “pissed” a lot of people in Tallahassee off. Excuse my language, but it did.  Because it was such a tremendous land purchase and was out of the hands of the legislature— because the governor at the time was kind of on a “white horse” and up for election to the US Senate some people got really mad….For me if it had happened it would have been a dream come true, for others “it did not happen” and it was a nightmare. An emotional  reaction on both accounts to what was really a historical anomaly. Understandably so, the 2008 Financial Crisis was also part of this emotional quagmire…

So after Gov. Scott got into office, he and others felt strongly about insuring this kind of land-buy would “never happen again….” So they revamped things in Tallahassee, cut the budgets of the water management districts to the bone, and folded it law into law that the water districts had to have their budgets approved by the legislature. This really changed things for the district and for the governing board members too….Now they have to be more submissive to Tallahassee. Yuk.

Some would say answering to the legislature  is very good. Being careful with money is always “good,” and I agree, but to hang water districts on the pendulum of politics is an ineffective model for success.

Let’s look at history.

–On March 9, 1976  a voter-approved, Florida constitutional amendment authorized water management districts to levy ad valorem taxes up to 1 mill. Today we don’t even blink an eye at this. Years ago it was a feat of Florida history in favor of the environment and water planning.

Think about it.

If you have the power to levy your own millage as a special assessment district, kind of like a city, shouldn’t you be given the authority to determine how to manage and what to do with that money?  What if the Town of Sewall’s Point had to run its budget by the state legislature? That would be fun. “Please! Please! Let us have that street light!”

I know I am going far out there, but still.

Why allow the water districts to levy their own millage rates if they are simply an arm of Tallahassee? Every district has its own local problems and this is why there are five separate water districts….perhaps the next “secret” step is to formally put the water districts all under one hat? Like the Department of Environmental Protection also known as “Don’t Expect Protection….”

Looking at our state’s history and the intensions  of those who have gone before us, the water districts were meant to “change our world”. To save Florida. Thank you to all those working for the District and may the future give you the freedom to create your own destiny-our destiny. Shouldn’t you represent us and not Tallahassee anyway? Isn’t it our taxes that are being levied? Shouldn’t we have a loud voice? Shouldn’t you not be afraid to listen?

I think so.

These wonderful timelines of history are wonderful perspectives on how far we have come and why we should keep going!

TIMELINES OF HISTORY SFWMD:(http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20about%20us/history1)

TIMELINE OF HISTORY: SJRWMD:( http://floridaswater.com/history/1970-1999.html)

Millage MC 2015/Comments

Millage Comparison Sheet 2015 MC.
Millage Comparison Sheet 2015 MC.

19 thoughts on “The Slow Defunding of the SFWMD, St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon

  1. Of course, it’s bad POLICY not money per se that’s the horrible problem. The District was created to operate the EAA and it panders completely to Big Ag’s every desire.

    The only passing exception was the good board of governors named by Crist. Otherwise, the District is strictly an arm of Big Ag.

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  3. From what I have seen government doing so far to fix the lagoon I think maby they should just gather up all the taxpayers (our) money , dig a big hole and put all the money in and bury it up

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  4. Welcome back. You were missed!! Jody Kelly President 772-708-2420 jody@treasurecoast.com http://www.treasurecoast.com https://www.facebook.com/Treasurecoast

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  5. I think the most important teacher I had growing up was heading the trade school I went to teach pipe welding. I knew it was critical that I pay utmost attention because it was either learn to weld pipes or pick oranges.I managed to make a living in a tough world. I wonder if the teacher ever realized how important his teaching me was to my life. I managed to see the kids having summer camp at our lagoon house. I showed them my album and told some of them the history of the lagoon and how it was destroyed and more importantly how it can be fixed. I hate allways being the negative person in this blog but tomarrows world is going to be just as tough for our kids and even tougher if we do not give them the information they need to survive

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  6. Jacqui:Usually love your blogs but this one – I’m not so sure about.  The Sugar Farmers Water Management District has clearly demonstrated they care not one wit about us and our problems but manage strictly for the benefit of Big Sugar.  I am not enthused about giving them more resources to be used for those crooks against us and our water related problems.  If the current board and/or staff had any ethics or morality, they would do the right things and be willing to take the consequences.  Unless and until the get some appointees who actually care about South Florida water as opposed to South Florida sugar, let ’em starve.Chas  

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    1. Charles I would like to talk more about what I think you are saying. Do you think we would be better with out the SFWMD and water districts? I think they were originally set up to be our voice using our taxes…..could not we return to this? Maybe not.

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    1. Cyndi a millage rate is basically an amount that an entity (municipality, county, special district) taxes its citizens. If property values go up, more money is generated at a rate. So the same rate will bring in more money if property values go up, and less if property values go down. The “rollback rate” is the rate the number would go to to generate the SAME amount as the previous year.The Gov. wanted the SFWMD to go to their rollback rate so as not to collect more revenue.(he sees this as an “increase” in taxes). The SFWMD Gov. Board went against the will of the Gov for once and decided to keep the millage rate the same and since property values are going up, more tax money will be generated. Hope that helps. I will also post a chart that may be helpful. Google millage for the details of percentages, limits and the law on millage amounts.

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