Swiftmud to Shed 150 Employees

The state agency that oversees water supplies in the 16 counties around Tampa Bay will shed 130 to 150 of its 768 employees by early next year, its board decided Tuesday.

Employees of the Southwest Florida Water Management District will be offered a voluntary separation plan that will be available for 45 days. If that doesn’t work, then involuntary layoffs will follow in January or February, officials at the agency commonly known as Swiftmud announced.

The reason for the cutback: This spring, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature slashed how much Swiftmud could collect in taxes. As a result, the Brooksville-based agency has already cut its budget to 44 percent of what it was last year, but still faces a potential $30 million budget shortfall by 2013, agency officials say.

That means choosing between cutting environmental programs or cutting staff, according to newly hired Swiftmud executive director Blake Guillory. He chose to cut staff.

“The more quickly we can get right-sized for our budget and workload, the faster we can move forward, secure in our jobs, to meet the water resource challenges of this district,” Guillory, an engineer with no previous experience running a government agency, said in a news release.

Guillory presented his plan for restructuring the agency to its governing board Tuesday, and the board approved it. The plan is expected to save Swiftmud more than $15 million per year.

Swiftmud is supposed to meet the water needs of current and future water users while protecting and preserving the water resources in an area that covers about 10,000 square miles of west-central Florida. It’s one of the state’s five water management districts — all of which have been undergoing major upheavals since Scott took office this year.

In August, after ordering cuts that totaled about $700 million from all five districts, Scott said he wanted the agencies to slash their budgets further. Scott ordered cuts at Swiftmud totaling $4.2 million more. He cut $2.4 million from Swiftmud’s reserve fund and took the rest out of salaries.

The governor said then that those additional cuts “are just the first steps in ensuring that Florida’s precious water resources are protected and managed in the most fiscally responsible way possible.”

“It’s a dark day for Florida’s water resources,” Audubon of Florida’s Charles Lee said then.

The remaking of Swiftmud really took off with the arrival of Guillory, who started the first week of October. He immediately sent two of his deputy executive directors and the agency’s longtime attorney packing, and then demoted a third deputy director.

Guillory himself has taken a pay cut. He was making $175,000 a year at the engineering firm Brown & Caldwell, but Scott has told all five water management districts he wants their executive directors’ salaries capped at $165,000.

St. Petersburg Times