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Updated: South Florida Water Management Agency Reverses Vote On Tax Cuts

UPDATE, Aug. 3, 4:30 p.m.: The South Florida Management District board reversed its decision against tax cuts.

The board held a special meeting on Friday, July 31, where they approved to cut a property tax rate for the fifth year in a row.

Two weeks ago, the board voted 6-2 to maintain the tax rate that would’ve prevented having to rely on the agency’s reserves.

The final vote on the proposed budget will take place in September.

For the first time in four years, the South Florida Water Management District board voted against a tax rate cut.

The 6-2 vote on Thursday opens up about $21 million that can potentially be used for environmental projects, namely Everglades restoration.

“We just saw an amazing thing,” says Eric Draper, the executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society.

Draper and other environmentalists attended Thursday’s meeting in Palm Beach County to make the case against the tax rate cut. They believe the continued efforts toward restoring the Everglades are reason enough to maintain rather than slash the tax rate.

Draper adds that the additional funds can also help curb sea level rise in vulnerable areas, such as Miami-Dade County.

“It will help make sure that next time we get a hurricane, that we won’t all be underwater,” he says.

The proposed cut would have saved South Florida residents about $2.91. To put it in perspective, homeowners pay about $35 in taxes for a property worth $100,000.

But Cara Capp says these savings can’t compare to the major gains for the Everglades.

The program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association explains that restoring the Everglades requires  taking water from Lake Okeechobee and moving it south to the “parched” national parks.

In the process, the water is cleaned to ensure that the Everglades ecosystem isn’t affected.

“The more clean water we can send to Everglades National Park, the better habitat for all our beloved birds, alligators and native species,” Capp says.

Daniel O’Keefe, chairman for the government-appointed board, said he supported the tax cut. 

"If we have the reserves to make the budget work for 2016… and keep our taxes level, then I’m comfortable with doing that," he says.

Board members Sandy Batchelor and Mitch Hutchcraft were the most vocal against the tax rate cut. Batchelor said she was concerned about future fiscal years that would be based on a budget that relied on reserve funds.

"I think that we have proven that we can run lean and mean and that we're good stewards of the people's money, of the taxpayer's money," she says.

The Water Management board can still change its mind. The final vote on the proposed budget and tax rate will take place in September.

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