Bell Dissents On Stormwater Tax To Fix Lakes

By the time the Polk County Commission gets to the point of setting next year’s tax rate, the consensus has already been reached on whether any changes are coming.

During Tuesday’s meeting, however, there was a slight dissent after Commission Chair Melony Bell announced she would not support the proposed tax rate to pay to eventually pay for projects to preserve lake quality in Polk County.

The tax rate is 10 cents per $1,000 of taxable property.

Bell cited the fact that the tax was approved to meet the requirements of federal mandates passed down to state and local officials. She also was the lone dissenter in approving the 2013 ordinance that authorized the tax.

The proposed tax rate was set over her dissent and will be formally considered during budget hearings in September.

A couple of points.

Yes, there is a federal mandate under the Clean Water Act to work to prevent pollution as much as is practical and financially and technically feasible. The law was passed by Congress in 1972, but it took nearly a quarter century of lobbying to finally persuade the County Commission to establish a stormwater utility, which they did in 2013 after rejecting the idea as recently as 2012.

The federal mandate issue cuts both ways, however. I expect some local officials realize the need to fund lake cleanups and let the feds be the bad guys who are forcing them to do this to provide themselves with the political cover to do the right thing.

Unincorporated Polk County was tardy in approving some kind of stormwater utility. Lakeland and Winter Haven, two cities that grew up around lakes, approved stormwater fees decades ago.

In fact, Lakeland just approved an increase in its fee this year to keep up with the expense of performing lake management work.

That’s because other jurisdictions realized that their lakes were declining and they had to do something before it was too late to preserve their communities’ quality of life.

This is not about the feds, but about the future.

Posted in Group Conservation Issues.