Florida’s special districts look in line for a fix — but how?by John Kennedy | October 17th, 2011
Florida’s 1,633 special districts — which range in scope from behemoth water management districts to small town community development authorities — are being dragged slowly under the microscope of the state’s biggest government entity, the state Legislature.
Gov. Rick Scott has targeted the authorities for action, acknowledging that he’s stunned by the fact they command $15.5 billion of taxpayer money. The Republican governor wants to rein them in– somehow. And legislative committees also are struggling to craft legislation that shrinks their ranks.
Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has introduced a measure (SB 192) aimed at merging some districts or abolishing those seen as having outlived their usefulness.
But special taxing districts go back to log cabin Florida. Hospital taxing authorities, which draw a lot of ire from Scott and lawmakers, date to the 1920s. Finding a one-size, fits-all fix won’t be easy, lawmakers concede.
On Monday, the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee heard a couple hours worth of testimony on the districts. At least 23 of these government units, including the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority, are listed as being in a state of financial emergency by Scott’s inspector general, mostly for debt or cash-flow problems.
Dozens of other districts have drawn letters from the handful of state agencies which oversee them — usually for a snafu involving their financial audits or annual reports.
Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, questioned whether these letters ever result in penalties. Ken Reecy, an administrator within the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity, acknowledged that doesn’t happen. But he defended the current oversight system, saying, “it works pretty well.”
Still, Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, seemed unconvinced — and incredulous.
“With all these agencies watching them, and there’s still no penalties?” Norman said.