The Florida Legislature
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Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability

Review of the Independent Special Districts That Provide Infrastructure and Services to the Public , Report No. 95-22, December 1995

  • Legislation giving counties the authority to create municipal service units was passed in 1974. However, many independent special districts (ISDs) (282 of 451, or 63%) were created prior to the 1974 legislation that established municipal services units as a county alternative to ISDs. In addition, the majority of ISDs were created prior to 1989 legislative guidelines and consequently did not go through the review process instituted by these guidelines. Of the 451 total ISDs, 66 have been created since 1989, with the major growth of ISDs (43 of 66) being community development districts. Only 7 ISDs have been created by the Legislature and an additional 16 ISDs were created through other statutory provisions.
  • We could not identify any trends that substantiate that ISDs are used to circumvent millage caps. The relationship between the presence of ISDs and the county millage caps indicates that the use of ISDs appears inversely related to the caps. Generally, the counties with more ISDs have millage rates below the statewide average. The average statewide millage rate is 7.7; in the 17 counties with eight or more ISDs, the average millage rate is 6.2. This would tend to indicate that county ad valorem assessments are lower where ISDs are used to provide services. Overall, it does not appear that ISDs are used to circumvent millage caps because many counties are not assessing ad valorem taxes at their millage cap.
  • Some ISDs have reported financial emergencies, but these cases are relatively few and do not appear to pose significant problems. However, a number of ISDs are not meeting one or more of the reporting requirements. The Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has taken limited action to address noncompliance. The Department's interpretation of the process for resolving financial reporting noncompliance and the absence of a cost-effective penalty contribute to its lack of enforcement. According to DCA, it has not sought to investigate special districts since 1990 because no state agency has requested the Department to initiate such an investigation. The Auditor General and Department of Banking and Finance indicated that they consider their notification of special districts that have not reported as adequate for DCA to pursue compliance. However, DCA does not consider this notification as a formal request to take enforcement action.
  • Given the changes in the demand for local services, local governments are in need of additional financing options. ISDs represent one option that has the advantage of having tax and fee assessment authority separate from city and county operating millages. Along with providing another financing option, positive features of ISDs include allowing needed services and infrastructure to be provided when local governments cannot or will not provide them; providing and charging for services to only those citizens that need them; and being the fastest means of providing needed services.

Which Government Program Summaries contain related information?

Housing and Community Development

What other OPPAGA-related materials are available?

  • Report No.  01-67 Special Report: Fire Department Coordination Beneficial; Merger Guidelines Would Be Helpful, published in December 2001.
  • Report No. 01-43 Progress Report: Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Has Implemented OPPAGA’s Recommendations, published in September 2001.
  • Report No. 01-31 Justification Review: Fire Marshal Program Performs Well; Boiler Safety Function, Measures Need Improvement, published in June 2001.
  • Report No. 99-12 Policy Review: Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, published in November 1999.
  • Report No. 97-60 Review of Privatization Potential of Select Special Districts, published in March 1998.

Copies of this report in print or alternate accessible format may be obtained by telephone (850/488-0021), by FAX (850/487-9213), in person, or by mail (OPPAGA Report Production, Claude Pepper Building, Room 312, 111 W. Madison St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1475).
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