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What you need to know about Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District

The independent special district could be dissolved. Here's what that could mean for Florida and taxpayers.

ORLANDO, Fla. — The back-and-forth between Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis is continuing to play out, but the apparent battle has now moved into new territory — literally. 

By now, you've probably seen the fallout between the governor and theme park giant related to having opposing stances when it comes to the "Parental Rights in Education" bill that was signed into law earlier this year. 

But you may find yourself wondering: What is the latest issue about — and what even is Reedy Creek? 

Here are the answers to some burning questions about the attempt to potentially dissolve the more than 50-year independent special district known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District:

What is even happening?

On April 19, DeSantis issued a proclamation to have Florida lawmakers consider terminating special districts established prior to November 1968, specifically targeting the property of Walt Disney World.

"...They will be considering the congressional map but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968, and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District," DeSantis said.

The act is being considered by lawmakers during the Florida Legislature's current special session.

What is the Reedy Creek Improvement District's history?

It all started in the mid-1960s when the Walt Disney World Co. proposed building a "recreation-oriented" development on 25,000 acres of property in Central Florida. The area it occupies splits Orange County and Osceola County. 

"[At the time] neither Orange nor Osceola County had the services or the resources needed to bring the project to life," the district's website reads.

So, in 1967 the Florida Legislature worked with the Walt Disney World Co. to create a special taxing district, aka the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The designation allows the district to "act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government."

The legislation meant Walt Disney World would be responsible for paying the cost of providing municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection, etc. for the 38.5 square miles of land. It also kept local taxpayers from having to pay for building and maintaining such services.

What makes up the Reedy Creek Improvement District?

Per the district, the following are some of what makes up the district:

  • 134 miles of roadways
  • 67 miles of waterways
  • 60,000 tons of waste managed
  • Fire and EMS with a 6-8 minute response time
  • 250,000 daily visitors
  • 2,000 vendors, suppliers and contractors used to provide public services to visitors

The district is also comprised of two municipalities: Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.

What does the legislation propose? 

Senate Bill 4-C: Independent Special Districts and its complementary House bill were filed on April 19 to be considered as part of the legislature's special session. 

The bill looks to dissolve any independent special district established by a "special act" prior to the ratification of the Florida Constitution on Nov. 5, 1968, and has not been reestablished, re-ratified, or reconstituted since.

If passed and signed into law, said independent special districts would be dissolved by June 1, 2023. Any independent special district dissolved would be the ability to be reestablished at a later date "pursuant to the requirements and limitations of this chapter."

Will there be an impact on taxpayers?

This is a bit convoluted. If the Reedy Creek Improvement District is dissolved, local taxpayers are reported to get the revenue Disney is paying the district.

"In fact, [taxes]could go down because there's probably duplicative government bureaucracy. We're eliminating a layer of government," Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, told Business Insider.

But the district's 2021 Annual Financial Report shows it has a long-term bonded debt of $977,215,801. Florida Statutes currently state, unless otherwise provided by law or ordinance, a government formed by a merger of existing special districts "shall assume all indebtedness." 

According to a Florida Senate Bill Analysis and Fiscal Impact Statement, SB 4C will have an "indeterminate fiscal impact" on the local governments assuming the assets and indebtedness of an independent special district.

“For us, for anybody that’s involved with Orange County finances like I am,” Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond told WKMG. “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.”

Are any other special districts impacted?

Other districts that could be affected include the Bradford County Development Authority (Bradford County), Sunshine Water Control District (Broward County), Eastpoint Water and Sewer District (Franklin County), Hamilton County Development Authority (Hamilton County) and the Marion County Law Library (Marion County). 

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