Contrary to the unsubstantiated cries of a handful of environmentalists, reducing spending at the South Florida Water Management District is not bringing Everglades restoration to a grinding halt. Reducing taxes by more than 30 percent, the district is streamlining operations, eliminating unnecessary expenses and getting back to its core mission of flood control, water supply and ecosystem restoration. In doing so, we are saving South Floridians $128 million, the majority of which has been realized by cutting excessive overhead and building a leaner, more efficient agency.
Even with these changes, the district still employs a dynamic 1,647 employees, close to half of whom are dedicated to operating South Florida's massive flood control system. More than 25 percent of our work force hold Ph.D. or master's degrees, and we have more than 150 certified professional engineers and geologists. This highly qualified, capable and competent work force is focused on effectively achieving the agency's water management responsibilities.
As for funding our core mission, more than 70 percent of the agency's $557 million budget this year will go toward flood control and protecting the environment. With an investment of more than $850 million in 2011 and 2012 combined, we will bring a half-dozen restoration projects to construction completion this year. It is important to note that agency reductions were not made at the expense of restoration. In fact, over the next five years, the district will use reserves to invest another $350 million primarily to improve water storage and water quality in the northern and southern Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee watersheds. These efforts will engage our federal partners — and those constituents with an interest in being a part of the solution — in achieving our shared restoration objectives.
Just like most businesses, governments and households today, the district is cutting back on excess spending and focusing its resources on priorities. Despite the invalid complaints of a vocal few, prudent fiscal planning and a streamlined operation is allowing the district to both lower taxes and press ahead with important projects that will protect the environmental and economic interests of South Florida.
Melissa Meeker, executive director, South Florida Water Management District, West Palm Beach
The healing touch | Aug. 27, Personal Best
More skepticism needed
I was disappointed in this article's uncritical embrace of alternative medicine currently served up at our local hospitals. Though it focused on Reiki, a sidebar mentioned yoga, acupuncture, hypnotherapy and Ayurvedic treatment, among other therapies.
The token skeptical comments, such as "unless rigorous scientific research can validate Reiki, it will continue to face criticism from some scientists and doctors," may lead prospective patients to believe that so-called alternative medicine is just hanging out, waiting to be verified.
There's just one kind of effective medicine: the kind that works beyond any placebo effect. Our best guide to effective medical treatment is the use of carefully controlled studies, not anecdotes.
There's a mountain of evidence showing that the therapies mentioned do not work past the level of chance or the placebo effect. The article could have directed consumers to reputable sources like Stephen Barrett's Quackwatch.org.
Jeff Karon, department of English, University of South Florida, Tampa
This hurricane season, we are again being subjected to TV reporters standing on beaches to show us how dangerous the weather is. The forecasts are important, but the reporters seem to want to throw everyone into a panic. I don't need to see some fool standing out in the weather.
Bill Crumley, Clearwater
It appears that Hurricane Donna in 1960 will retain for now the distinction of being the only hurricane on record to affect every state along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard. The Times reported that Georgia was not affected by Hurricane Irene.
Having survived Donna — I was just entering my junior year at St. Petersburg High and was living in the Pinellas Point area — I can assure you that, even 51 years later, it is not an experience I'd care to relive.
Kenneth R. Gilder, St. Petersburg
How to fix our math education Aug. 29, commentary
Too many left behind
Bravo to the opinions expressed by Sol Garfunkel and David Mumford.
The stuff they are trying to teach kids today is incredible. My second-grade granddaughter is being taught geometry, something I didn't learn until high school.
No wonder so many kids are failing and ultimately dropping out.
All this panic is because we are not No. 1 in the world in math and science. Trying to achieve that is being done at the expense of all those average children who are, in fact, being left behind.
Kandy Smith, Belleair
Will Harry Dent be right again? | Aug. 28
Spotty record at best
I found this story interesting. Given some of his past predictions, perhaps the article should have been called, "Will Harry Dent ever be right?"
In the Jan. 3, 2010, Times, Dent prognosticated that the markets would suffer a severe downturn in 2010, with the Dow Jones falling to perhaps as low as 3,000 by year's end. As we all know, all major stock market indices finished 2010 with double-digit gains.
When asked in the Aug. 28 interview why he missed the mark so badly, Dent replied that he didn't think the Fed would increase the money supply so radically in response to slowing economic conditions. While I'm no market visionary, isn't that what central banks do in severe recessions? In other words, Dent leaned on the familiar refrain of most chart readers and others who claim to be able to predict the economic future, which is: "I would have been right if …"
In the January 2010 article, Dent also recommended that investors avoid assets such as gold and the Swiss franc as well as oil and other commodities, all flawed recommendations. Dent may have a good understanding of demographic trends, but that clearly doesn't translate into actionable investment advice for most people.
Doom, gloom, fear and telling everyone that "it's different this time" may be a great way to sell books, but it's a poor substitute for owning a properly diversified portfolio and then exercising the discipline and patience to let it work as intended.
Edward Sutton, Tampa
A vote for blight on city roads Aug. 29, editorial
Citizens oppose billboards
For the second time, the editors have come down on the wrong side of this issue and have done so by contradicting a story written by one of their own reporters. Michael van Sickler described attendance at the billboard hearing as "dozens of people." Now we have an editorial commenting on a "handful of activists." Well, which is it?
The paper also seems to blame the Council of Neighborhood Associations for stirring up all this fuss when in fact CONA merely stepped in to support what was already a growing distaste among the vast majority of the city's residents. Those dozens of people were representing their neighborhoods, which means for all intents and purposes there were hundreds, perhaps even thousands of voices in that room saying: We don't want this.
This was a rotten deal, a Trojan horse, that we would have had to live with for at least 20 years, and the citizens of this city, who have been conned more than once, finally stood up en masse and said no.
What has all of us scratching our heads is how the Times can be so blind to support something that would have added to our urban blight.
Judy Ellis, St. Petersburg
Back to school
Access to health care is key
As the children of Pinellas County head back to school, our community wishes them a safe and successful school year. Unfortunately, an estimated 30,000 children in our county will start school without one essential tool: health insurance and access to basic health care.
I am saddened that some children will be starting the school year without an annual checkup, which would include a hearing and vision exam or a visit to the dentist, because they have no health insurance. Uninsured children are more likely than insured children to perform poorly in school; in contrast, enrolling children in health coverage has been associated with greatly improved academic performance.
The good news is that most uninsured children are eligible for low-cost or free health care coverage through Florida Kid Care. This low-cost or free program covers doctor visits, checkups and shots, hospital visits, emergency room visits, prescriptions, vision and hearing screenings, mental health and dental care.
Families that would like to learn more about Florida Kid Care can call 1-888-540-KIDS (5437).
Melanie Hall, executive director, Kids Healthcare Foundation, Tampa