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


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

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 five years. This means final budget number is “less that it could be if the millage rate were left the same at its “roll-back rate.” Confusing. Basically the budget number could be higher…

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.


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!



headshot-jtl-2013About Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch:

Although born at Travis Air Base, California, Jacqui considers herself a native of Stuart, Florida, having moved there at eight months old. Her father’s family, originally from Syracuse, New York, has lived in Stuart since 1952. Her mother is a 5th generation Floridian from Gainesville. Jacqui is a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Jacqui is journalism graduate of the University of Florida, and an education master’s graduate of the University of West Florida. She went on to teach English and German and later after a serious accident of breaking her neck, started selling real estate. Later, she ran for public office having served on the Town of Sewall’s Point Commission since 2008, and is former mayor. During this time she saw the opportunity to help showcase the work of a locally formed river group, the River Kidz, and this has been her passion ever. She incorporates youth/river education  into her political work for the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.

Jacqui is the treasurer/secretary of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council; has chaired the Florida League of Cities Environmental and Energy Committee; was chair, and a six year member of the Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments; is an alternate for the Water Resources Advisory Commission for the South Florida Water Management District; and is a board member for Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, in St Lucie County.  She also serves as a board member (ex-officio) for the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund, and is head administrator for her beloved River Kidz, now a division of the Rivers Coalition.

Jacqui’s reach involves not only local, but state and federal government. In 2013,  she served on Senator Joe Negron’s panel for the Select Senate Hearing on the Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee. In 2014, she actively supported the elections of both Senator Joe Negron and Congressman Patrick Murphy who have both been strong supporters of  Indian River Lagoon issues. In 2015, she is part of the Florida League Cities Treasure Coast Advocacy team to influence and educate Tallahassee. Jacqui received the Everglades Coalition’s 2015 “John V. Kabler Award” for “Grassroots Activism” working to organize and educate the public, generating grassroots support for Everglades restoration.

– See more at: (

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