Special district bill will leave Orange, Osceola taxpayers with Disney debt, Democrats say

Reedy Creek Improvement District has a bond debt of nearly $1 billion

The Florida Senate. (File)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Democratic attempts to water down a bill that would dissolve six special districts in Florida, including Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, failed in the Florida Senate Tuesday night.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, tried to amend SB 4-C so that instead of getting rid of the special districts next year, the state would conduct a study to determine what impacts the bill would have, if any.

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The amendment failed on a voice vote.

Farmer said the current bill as written could leave Orange and Osceola counties to assume the nearly $1 billion bond debt the Reedy Creek Improvement District carries, as required by Florida law.

“So this is not supposition, this is not conjecture, this is Florida law that says those 1.7 million people are going to have to pick up this bill,” Farmer said.

According to the RCID’s annual financial report for 2021, the district carries a long-term bonded debt of $977,215,801.

The district, which was formed in 1967 and allows Disney to self-govern its properties, also handles water and sewer, power, roads and fire services for the district. It also pays Orange County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services. All of those services would also have to be assumed by the counties, if the district is dissolved.

Farmer said the bill was not fiscally sound, pointing out that other counties would be in the same boat for the five other districts the state was dissolving, and those counties would not have the revenue that Orange and Osceola counties did.

“It’s shoot first and ask questions later,” Farmer said.

Republican sponsors of the bill say its purpose is to bring these districts more in line with the state’s current constitution, which was established in 1968, one year after the Reedy Creek Improvement District was formed.

The bill allows the districts to apply to be reestablished on or after June 1, 2023.

State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, who sponsored the House version of the bill, tried to posit Tuesday as a good thing for local governments.

“You know what, it’s a great opportunity for local politicians in Orange and Osceola county to exercise those home rule powers to rule over territory that they haven’t been able to because the state preempted them 55 years ago,” Fine said.

State legislature analysis concedes the bill will have an “indeterminate fiscal impact,” both on residents and businesses currently in the special district, and also on the local governments that will have to take on control of the district’s territory.

Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond told News 6 Tuesday that the bill leaves more questions than answers for the county.

“For us, for anybody that’s involved with Orange County finances like I am,” Diamond said, “We are going to monitor this thing over the next week and see what happens because it could have a very big impact on Orange County and on Orange County taxpayers.”

About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.