More cuts to water protection agency

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SARASOTA COUNTY - The organization put in place to protect water is seeing more cuts. The Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud, has announced they're doing away with 50 more positions. The agency says it's to become more efficient, while others say it could mean less protection for our most precious resource.

They work to protect water where it sits, where it goes, and where it comes from, owning 450,000 acres in 16 counties. Swiftmud will soon be doing it with less help says Terri Behling. "About 40 to 50 positions in total that will be affected."

This after a more than 20% reduction in staff last year and facing a 40% overall budget cut. The district is now down to around 600 workers, from nearly 900 in 2009. "Just a continuation of finding those efficiencies within the district. This reorganization is not being impacted by our budget because our operating expenses are below revenue."

"The moves are troubling." It has environmentalists like Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton concerned. "From the environmental perspective if you don't have the staff which can give the adequate review then it is a pretty safe bet that some of the environmental features of this area are going to suffer."

Swiftmud officials tell ABC 7 that the cuts are in management, IT, human resources, and general services.

Believe it or not, some say the cuts are even a concern for some in the business community. Specifically when it comes to getting permits, says Thaxton. "If it takes longer to get approved it of course costs people time which is the same as costing them money."

Behling says they don't see that happening. "I don't think the permit community will see any change in service based on this restructuring."

Manasota 88, a local environmental group, says not enough research is being done.

Swiftmud says while they are laying off some they will soon hire more scientific and engineering staff. "It is really just looking at the business from the inside and how can we do things better. Making sure your tax dollars are being used efficiently."

Swiftmud also has plans to sell off pieces of public conservation land they say are no longer needed. In our area only about six acres in Manatee County are currently up for consideration.