Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gov. Scott slow to scrutinize special taxing districts

 Florida Governor Rick Scott answers reporters questions Monday in Tallahassee after a bill signing ceremony at the Capitol.


Florida Governor Rick Scott answers reporters questions Monday in Tallahassee after a bill signing ceremony at the Capitol.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott sounded determined a year and a half ago when he demanded a thorough review of obscure special taxing districts that have the power to "tax, spend and incur debt at the expense of Florida taxpayers."

Scott was surprised that so many appointees who never have to face voters had the power to tax, so he signed an order on Jan. 11, 2012, ordering his budget experts to scrutinize nearly 1,700 districts and whether they serve "a legitimate public interest."

Eighteen months later, the districts are still thriving, as Scott's tough talk meets the reality that special districts have clout.

Across Florida, special districts levy taxes to provide services such as fire protection, flood control, mosquito control, children's services and community development. Some districts are controlled by elected officials and others by political appointees, many chosen by Scott and his predecessors, and were created to pay for roads, streetlights and other infrastructure. (Pinellas alone has about two dozen of them.)

Special taxing districts helped Walt Disney Co. redesign the character of Central Florida and enabled developer Gary Morse to build the Villages, a golfing mecca and mega-retirement community close to major highways in three Florida counties.

To Scott, some special taxing districts are better than others.

"Gosh. Let's take the Villages as an example. They've gone from scratch to 91,000 people," Scott said. "People love to live there. They're buying into those amenities."

Scott said he sees no problem with giving special taxing authority to help the Villages become a magnet for retirees — many of whom vote Republican — by financing infrastructure through community development districts with power to issue bonds, backed by assessments charged to Villages homeowners.

Morse is a major supporter of the Republican Party of Florida and Scott. The developer has given $100,000 to Scott's re-election committee, Let's Get to Work, and the Villages has given another $100,000.

So far, Scott's review has barely scratched the surface, with a study of the 18 elected mosquito control districts stretching from the Keys to Walton County in the Panhandle. The study said that while mosquito control is handled by many counties, the districts' independence has encouraged innovation and cited Pasco County as a good example.

The study also said that the mosquito districts' property tax collections have declined 43 percent since 2006, when adjusted for inflation.

A spokesman for Scott said the special tax district study is continuing and that it has been harder to collect detailed data on every type of special district than had been anticipated.

Scott's wariness about special taxing districts resurfaced when he vetoed three bills last week to expand powers of small special taxing districts in Hendry, Indian River and Lee counties. All three bills had broad local support and passed the Legislature unanimously.

Scott, who's seeking a second term and emphasizing holding down the cost of living, said the bills would create "duplicative taxation" on families and give districts too much power.

"It's disappointing, but I see his position," said Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who sponsored one of the bills. "Next year, we need to structure the bill differently."

Mayfield's bill (HB 1009) sought to spur development of 27,000 acres in Fellsmere by providing services that are not local government priorities.

Attorney Christopher Lyon, a lobbyist for two of the three bills, said the goal of one bill (HB 855) was to build a park in Palm Beach County, and that neither the city nor the county wanted to pay for it, but residents had raised more than $100,000 toward the park's construction.

"We felt it was what the residents wanted," Lyon said. "There was really no other option. … This isn't something that the district dreamed up to give itself more power."

Contact Steve Bousquet at or (850) 224-7263.

Gov. Scott slow to scrutinize special taxing districts 07/09/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 9:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Storm routs Cleveland


    TAMPA — Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and recovered two fumbles as the Storm routed Cleveland 57-27 Saturday night in its home regular-season finale at Amalie Arena.

  2. Miscue sends Rays to another stinging loss to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays gave away DJ Kitty onesies Saturday night. Then they gave away the game.

    Rays centerfielder Mallex Smith misses a drive hit by Adrian Beltre with two outs in the sixth, allowing the tying runs to score. Beltre puts Texas ahead 4-3 when he scores after two wild pitches.
  3. Rowdies shut out Charleston


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies know a thing or two about stalemates, with five of their past 10 games ending in a draw.

    Rowdies in the first half during the game between Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, Jul 22, 2017.
  4. 13-year-old Janessa's father holds memorial service at Rogers Middle School


    RIVERVIEW — About 100 people sat in the tile-floored multipurpose room Saturday at Rodgers Middle School where Janessa Shannon once sat as a student.

    A mourner embraces Nahshon Shannon after the memorial service for Nahshon’s daughter, Janessa, Saturday at Rodgers Middle School in Riverview.
  5. Trump: Aircraft carrier a symbol of America's might (w/video)


    NORFOLK, Va. — With praise and a blessing for the military, President Donald Trump helped hand over the USS Gerald R. Ford to the Navy on Saturday and said the state-of-the-art aircraft carrier will send a "100,000-ton message to the world" about America's military might when it is ultimately deployed.

    President Donald Trump commissions the USS Gerald R. Ford on Saturday in Norfolk, Va.