Bill withdrawn in Florida House in spat over Manatee's water board seat

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 8, 2013 

MANATEE -- A legislative bill was withdrawn Thursday after Manatee County commissioners said it would dilute their representation on a powerful board overseeing water issues.

The bill, House Bill 147, called for eliminating four of 13 seats on the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which oversees a 16-county region.

It was withdrawn as Manatee County commissioners voted to organize a trip to Tallahassee to voice their opposition before a House committee.

The county commission last week issued a letter objecting to the bill and its Senate companion, S.B. 412, which Wednesday was temporarily postponed from consideration, according to the Florida Senate website.

Manatee commissioners argued in the letter that such legislation could curtail local control of how Manatee tax dollars are spent, or even divert local dollars to projects outside the county.

Meanwhile, the bills' opponents were multiplying: The Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority and the city of North Port joined Manatee County in opposing the bills, said Commissioner John Chappie.

"Two Sarasota representatives took our seat away," said Chappie, referring to the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota; and to the Senate sponsor, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice.

Calls to the lawmakers' offices Thursday were not returned.

"We're looking out for our territory," Chappie added, urging quick action to head off committee passage of the House bill.

Manatee's commission supports the current makeup of the water management board.

Under the current arrangement, Manatee County holds its own seat. If the proposed changes pass, it would hold a seat jointly with Sarasota County.

Manatee County not only supplies water for its own residents and businesses, but for six municipal partners and Sarasota County as well, and boasts a long record of progressive stewardship of its water resources and reliability as a water supplier, commissioners noted.

Pilon said last week his intent was to provide consistency and fairness in the composition of the governing board, since four other boards across the state have nine members each.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.com.

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