Legislative bills withdrawn that called for SWFMD board changes

skennedy@bradenton.comMarch 5, 2013 

MANATEE -- Sarasota lawmakers have withdrawn proposals that local officials complained would have diluted Manatee County's representation on the Southwest Florida Water Management District governing board.

Manatee County commissioners had opposed two bills, which would have eliminated four of 13 seats on the board overseeing water issues in a 16-county region.

Under the current arrangement, Manatee County holds its own seat. Under the bills as they had been proposed, it would have held a seat jointly with Sarasota County.

Earlier this year, the commission complained in a letter that such changes would curtail local control of how Manatee tax dollars were spent.

It called House Bill 147 and an identical companion, Senate Bill 412, "harmful," and recommended Manatee County's continued direct representation on the water authority board.

In a letter dated Feb. 26, Tom Seguin, chairman of the board of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce also opposed the bills, asking, "Why turn back the hands of time and change something that is not broken?" However, on Monday, on the eve of the opening of the Florida Legislature today, both bills were listed as "withdrawn," according to official websites.

Calls to the bills' sponsors, state Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, and state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, were not returned Monday.

"Rep. Pilon sent a letter inviting us to a summertime discussion on the SWFMUD governing board and its makeup," Nick Azzara, the county's information outreach coordinator, told the county commission last month.

Part of the county's concern, he said, was that the bills were filed without anybody locally knowing about it.

"We've asked Pilon to notify us on any changes that would directly impact Manatee County," he said.

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

When asked about the purpose of his bill, Pilon told the Bradenton Herald that the legislation's 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.

"My intent is not to short anybody on representation, but to create a fair scheme," Pilon said last month.

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

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