South Florida water managers put their stamp of approval Thursday on a proposed 2011-12 budget for water management in Collier County.
The vote came as tensions between the South Florida Water Management District, based in West Palm Beach, and its local arm, the Big Cypress Basin, have heated up over budget issues.
The basin, which the state Legislature carved out of the larger 16-county district in 1976, sets its own budget and property tax rate, but the district Governing Board must vote to approve them.
That approval is usually considered routine, and Thursday was no different, despite the discord between the district and Collier County.
Southwest Florida’s representative on the Governing Board, Dan DeLisi, made only a fleeting reference to the strain, remarking on a “very lively discussion” at a basin budget hearing earlier this month.
Community leaders turned out to protest what they feared would be a loss of basin autonomy to West Palm Beach.
The basin board called for an accounting of how the district spends tax money it raises with its levy in Collier County and how much of it is spent on basin projects.
The district and the basin are in budget-cutting mode to meet a property tax revenue cap imposed by Gov. Rick Scott on Florida five water management districts.
The basin’s budget went from $13.4 million this fiscal year to $9.3 million proposed for 2011-12.
The tentative budget cuts grants to local governments for water projects, postpones work on a new field station, reduces outreach and monitoring programs and dips into reserves.
Under the tentative tax rates approved Thursday, the owner of a home in Collier County with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $34 in water management taxes compared to about $48 this year, about $14 less.
District budget writers have cut $103 million from its budget, a combination of cutting employees, benefits and operating expenses.
“Really a monumental effort went into this but we know we have a little further to go,” the district’s Executive Director Melissa Meeker said Thursday.
The basin’s and district’s tentative budgets must be sent by Aug. 1 to Gov. Rick Scott and a legislative committee for review and possible vetoes.
Final votes on the budgets and property tax rates are set for September.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats