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Just Like That, SFWMD Finds Way to Cut Its Budget by 40 Percent

Scandalized South Florida Water Management District, largest by far of the state's five water management districts, isn't waiting around for the Legislature to dictate how its $1.1 billion budget should be cut. On Friday it released a plan to slash its 2012 budget by 40 percent -- down to $639.9 million. That cut is actually 10 percent deeper than even Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander called for.

It kills 91 district positions and, according to a story Friday in the Palm Beach Post, "everything from office supplies to Everglades restoration programs."

The Post also reported that on Monday the district board will appoint Tommy Strowd, the SFWMD's deputy executive director, as interim executive director. Strowd, who was named deputy in June 2010, oversees operations and maintenance at the district.

Alexander has said the Senate's plan to rein in the district's spendaholic ways -- padding its budgets with big salaries, benefits and unnecessary travel -- reflects the governor's desire to take control of the water management districts.

The governor is due shortly to appoint five new members of the SFWMD board.

To make its budget cuts, the Post story explained, "the Senate's budget bill would require the state's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability to examine all the districts' staffing expenditures for the last three years. That state officewould also inspect each district's inventory of aircraft and motor vehicles, along with operation and repair and maintenance expenses. A district would be allowed to replace vehicles only after 200,000 miles unless there is an emergency."

The district revealed it considered -- and perhaps still is -- another option: It could discontinue the Everglades cleanup project. The Post said it could recast the program to benefit local areas, "then charge those areas, such as Lee County and Fort Myers or Martin County and Stuart."

SFWMD Executive Director Carol Wehle's last day on the job is April 30. Wehle announced her resignation April 14, after a Post investigation revealed that the district hired Bob Howard, her live-in boyfriend, as a $120,000-a-year auditor for the inspector general, yet she never disclosed their relationship. For the time being, Howard remains at the district while the Department of Environmental Protection investigates.

Board members and the inspector general's office declined comment.

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