A past member of the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District says the average homeowner’s s tax savings of about $27 a year does not justify slashing the district’s budget by 30 percent.
Nathaniel Reed said the end result is a threat to south Florida’s water supply, flood control and environment.
Earlier this month, the district laid off 134 employees due to the budget cuts. Another 123 employees left on their own or took buyouts. Also as a result of the cuts, Standard and Poor’s has lowered the district’s credit rating, citing less financial flexibility.
The South Florida Water Management District is the lead agency for Everglades restoration and also manages the water supply for agriculture in south Florida and for millions of residents. Reed, of Hobe Sound, who’s also a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, said he’s outraged.
“All agencies can stand a five percent cut, but they can’t stand a cut the size the governor has set up. That’s dismantling agencies, that’s crippling agencies and it’s being done deliberately -- regrettably and in concert with the Republican legislature and they ought to hang their heads in shame,” he said.
Reed, a Republican, has led bi-partisan efforts to protect and preserve Florida’s environment for decades and remains active. He said reforming Florida’s tax laws is one way to protect the environment in the future.
“There are so many loopholes in our tax system that so many special interests have achieved that if those loopholes were closed there would not be a budget deficit,” he said. “But do you hear any courage from the governor and legislature about closing those holes – not a peep.”
Gov. Rick Scott defends his support of the legislation that led to downsizing at the district and tax savings for south Florida residents.
“What’s going on with the water district, it’s good what’s happening. We cut taxes by $210 million. They’re going back to their core mission,” Scott said.
The district is concentrating on its core mission this week – monitoring weather forecasts and adjusting operations of the regional water management system in order to reduce any potential for flooding from Hurricane Irene.
Budget cuts at the Florida Department of Health will result in less water quality testing along Collier County beaches.
For ten years, the health department has collected water samples weekly from fourteen beaches in Collier County. It’s part of the state’s Healthy Beaches program paid for with state and federal money.
Now the state money has gone away so testing will be scaled back to every two weeks and eliminated at three beaches. Health Department Spokeswoman Deb Millsap said careful consideration was given to where to cut.
Criteria included “what’s been the past water quality at the beaches; do you have any beaches that have been good the full ten years -- never had a poor water quality; the location of the site compared to other beaches that we will continue to test and the frequency of visitors to that beach site,” she said.
Millsap said if harmful bacteria are detected at one of the beaches, testing will be stepped up.
Statewide, water quality testing will be eliminated at 57 beaches. In Lee County , two beaches were proposed for elimination but health officials there said they will continue to test and will pick up the tab.
Water use restrictions will remain in South Florida for the foreseeable future. South Florida Water Management District officials said today/Friday that rainfall amounts in Lee and Collier Counties are above normal so far this summer season. But that’s not the case in some other parts of the 16 county water management district.
Water Resource Manager Pete Kwiatkowski said ground water levels haven’t rebounded from the prolonged drought that gripped the region.
“We were in quite a rainfall deficit district-wide that started last October and just started turning around in June when we started to get rainfall but we still have quite a deficit that we’re trying to overcome,” he said.
Meanwhile, officials urge residents to turn off home irrigation systems because there’s sufficient rainfall to keep lawns green. About 50 percent of regions potable water goes on lawns so turning off the sprinklers will hasten the recharge of groundwater levels.