ORLANDO, Fla. – When it comes to the future of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the board of supervisors Wednesday made clear they were as uncertain about Florida’s new law stripping Walt Disney World of its self-governing power as most people are.
“There’s nothing I can do about it and I don’t think there’s anybody here that knows what to do about it. The governor of the state of Florida will have to decide that,” said Don Greer, a longtime RCID board member.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District is the governing jurisdiction and special taxing district for the land of Walt Disney World Resort. It sits in Orange and Osceola counties and acts with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.
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Last week, however, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that eliminates special districts created before 1968, including Disney’s Reedy Creek.
Several Reedy Creek firefighters were in attendance at the meeting. Jon Shirey, the president of the Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters Association, told the board that the more than 200 first responders he represents are in the dark about what’s next for the special district.
“Still they have not really offered any reassurances or protections to their employees and their workforce,” Shirey said. “This is not just about the first responders. This is the almost 400 Reedy Creek district employees who earn their livelihoods here.”
Initial conversations about the repeal of the Reedy Creek Improvement District began when Disney spoke out against the signing of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. As the bill neared DeSantis’ desk in March, multiple protests were organized to call on Disney to do what it could to speak out against the legislation and halt its momentum in the Florida legislature.
Before DeSantis signed the bill into law, RCID sent a statement to investors, saying Disney’s 1967 agreement with the state that formed the district forbids Florida from limiting or altering the district’s ability to collect taxes or fulfill its bond obligations -- two major concerns with the new law. RCID said it would continue financial operations as usual.
District leaders did not say much during Wednesday’s meeting. District Administrator John Classe offered a brief statement at the beginning of the meeting.
“I have asked the district team to focus on continuing to do their work with the same high standards of professionalism that they always have as we learn more about what this legislation means,” Classe said.
Shirey is calling for transparency during the process. He said he wants to know what plans the district is making to protect first responders.
“We want to make sure that we are able to continue and finish out our careers and retire with dignity,” Shirey said.
District leaders said they are uncertain about the future.
After the meeting, Greer told News 6 the district is working to learn more about what the legislation means, adding he hasn’t received any guidance as to what’s next.
But he shared this message with employees.
“Hang on, just hang on with all the rest of us. We’ll live through this,” Greer said.
While RCID and others try to sort out what the law means, the law has already had financial implications.
Credit rating agency Fitch Ratings has put Reedy Creek on a “negative watch” list, which means RCID’s ratings could stay the same or potentially be downgraded.
At the meeting, a district official said the developer of a planned expansion for the solar power program is having trouble securing financing. That means the project could be delayed.
Although details are far from clear, the law to dissolve Reedy Creek could have huge tax implications for Disney. Democratic state lawmakers who oppose the bill also have warned that it could result in homeowners getting hit with big tax bills if they have to absorb costs the company used to pay.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, whose county is partially home to Disney World, said it would be “catastrophic for our budget” if the county had to assume the costs for public safety at the theme park resort. Reedy Creek currently reimburses the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for public safety costs.
Florida state Rep. Randy Fine, the author of the bill, said Disney was not the target of the bill, but Disney “chose to kick the hornet’s nest,” and that led to the legislation.
Disney could reapply with the legislature for its special district, otherwise, Reedy Creek would dissolve in June 2023. The measure does allow for the districts to be reestablished, leaving an avenue to renegotiate its future.
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.