Reasons Why Special Districts Are Created

The Florida Legislature, municipalities, counties and the Governor and Cabinet create special districts for use by the private and public sectors for many different reasons. For example:

  • Special districts are used to finance, construct, operate and maintain capital infrastructure, facilities and services.
  • Special districts often generate their own revenue to pay for projected growth (such as providing additional services, facilities and infrastructure) without requiring other all taxpayers – who don't benefit from the special district's services – to pay; in other words, only those who benefit from the special district's services actually pay. Common revenue sources include:
    • Ad valorem assessments
    • Non-ad valorem assessments
    • User fees
    • Tax increment financing
    • Tolls
    • Grants
  • Special districts can provide services when growth and development issues transcend the boundaries, responsibilities and authority of individual municipalities and counties. This is the reason for regional and multi-county special districts.
  • Special districts – since they are local governments – are able to save money for their citizens by selling tax-exempt bonds (to provide financing), purchasing essential goods and services tax-free and participating in state programs and initiatives, such as state-term contracting.
  • Special districts provide highly specialized local governmental services – often in response to citizen demand – that a municipality or county is unable or unwilling to provide.
  • Special districts can be governed by a board of appointed or elected members who have the expertise to focus on the specialized function of the special district. This allows municipalities and counties to focus on general governmental issues.
  • Special districts empower citizens to govern their own neighborhood / community since it is often possible for them to serve on the special district's governing body. Further, governing body meetings are usually held near their homes, making it more convenient for citizens to attend the meetings.
  • Special districts ensure accountability of public resources because special districts and their governing boards are held to the same high standards as municipalities and counties and their governing boards, in addition to the accountability standards under Chapter 189, Florida Statutes. Examples of accountability standards include requirements to comply with financial reporting, Government-in-the-Sunshine and ethics laws.
  • Special districts protect property values by assuring property owners that their roads, water and sewer lines and other essential facilities and services will continue to be maintained.
  • Special districts are more financially secure because their liability is limited in the case of civil lawsuits and special districts can receive state assistance in the event of a financial emergency.
  • Special districts are local special-purpose governmental agencies with funding, employment and missions separate from local general-purpose government.
  • Special districts can recruit qualified employees by offering governmental employment benefits and incentives, such as participation in Florida's Deferred Compensation Plan and possible participation in the Florida Retirement System and housing assistance programs for certain employed personnel.

Creating Independent and Dependent Special Districts; Creation Document Requirements

The following sections cover how various types of special districts are created.

Creating Independent Special Districts

Generally, only the Florida Legislature may create independent special districts. However, the following exceptions apply:

Creation Document Requirements for Independent Special Districts

The charter (a general law or a special act) that establishes an independent special district must address the following:

  1. A status statement referencing its independent status. Recommendation: Include a brief statement explaining why the special district is independent (such as, it does not meet any criteria listed in section 189.012(2), Florida Statutes - Definitions). When necessary, this status statement must be amended to conform to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's determination or declaratory statement regarding the status of the special district. When practical and feasible, the charter of an existing independent special district must be amended to contain a reference to the status of the special district as independent.
  2. The special district's purpose.
  3. The powers, functions and duties of the special district regarding the following:
    1. Ad Valorem Taxation,
    2. Bond Issuance,
    3. Other Revenue-Raising Capabilities,
    4. Budget Preparation and Approval Processes,
    5. Liens and Liens Foreclosure, and
    6. Use of Tax Deeds and Tax Certificates as Appropriate for Non-Ad Valorem Assessments and Contractual Agreements.
  4. The method for establishing the special district.
  5. The method for amending the charter of the special district.
  6. The membership and organization of the governing board. If the special district uses a one-acre/one-vote election principle, it must provide for a governing board consisting of five members with three members making up a quorum.
  7. The maximum compensation of a governing board member.
  8. The administrative duties of the governing board.
  9. The applicable financial disclosure, noticing and reporting requirements.
  10. The procedures and requirements for issuing bonds, if applicable.
  11. Election procedures, the qualifications of an elector and/or required referenda.
  12. The methods for financing the special district.
  13. The authorized millage rate (only if the special district has the authority to levy ad valorem taxes, other than taxes levied for the payment of bonds and taxes levied for periods not longer than two years when authorized by vote of the electors of the special district).
  14. The methods for collecting non-ad valorem assessments, fees or service charges.
  15. Planning requirements.
  16. The geographic boundary limitations.

Charter (Creation Document) Exemptions Not Allowed

The general law or special act that establishes an independent special district must not exempt the special district from the following requirements of Chapter 189, Florida Statutes:

  • Elections,
  • Bond Referenda,
  • Reporting,
  • Public Notices, and
  • Public Meetings.

Creating Dependent Special Districts

  • The legislature may create dependent special districts by special act at the request or with the consent of the county or municipality upon which the special district will be dependent.
  • A county may create dependent special districts within its boundaries by ordinance, subject to the approval of the governing body of the incorporated area affected (if any).
  • A municipality may create dependent special districts within its boundaries, by ordinance.

Creation Document Requirements for Dependent Special Districts

The local ordinance creating a dependent special district must include the following at a minimum:

  1. Its purpose, powers, functions and duties;
  2. Its geographic boundary limitations;
  3. The statutory authority to create the special district (e.g., section, 189.02, Florida Statutes, Chapter 163, Part III, Florida Statutes, etc.);
  4. A statement explaining why the special district is the best alternative;
  5. The membership, organization, compensation and administrative duties of the governing body;
  6. The applicable financial disclosure, noticing and reporting requirements;
  7. The methods for financing the special district;
  8. A declaration that the creation of the special district is consistent with the approved local government comprehensive plans; and
  9. A status statement referencing the status of the special district as dependent. A recommendation is to include a brief statement documenting the dependent criteria listed in section 189.012(2), Florida Statutes - Definitions, that apply to the special district. When necessary, this status statement must be amended to conform to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's determination or declaratory statement regarding the status of the district. When practical and feasible, the charter of an existing dependent special district must be amended to contain a reference to the status of the special district as dependent.

Newly Created Special District Responsibilities

Notify the Florida Legislature (independent special districts only)

When a local general-purpose government creates an independent special district, it must submit a statement to the Florida Legislature that includes the following:

  1. The purpose of the proposed special district,
  2. The authority of the proposed special district,
  3. An explanation of why the special district is the best alternative and
  4. A resolution or official statement from the local general-purpose government's governing body or an administrator stating the following:
    1. The creation of the proposed special district is consistent with approved local government comprehensive plans and
    2. The local general-purpose government does not object to its creation.

Notify the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Special District Accountability Program

Within 30 days after its creation date, each dependent and independent special district must notify the Special District Accountability Program (Program) of its existence by filing the following documents and information with the program (electronic submission via email is preferred - see Additional Information - Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Special District Accountability Program Contact):

  1. The special district's creation document.
  2. A written status statement that includes a reference to the status of the special district as dependent or independent and the basis for such classification. If this is not filed with the program, the department may determine the status and render its determination to an agent of the special district.
  3. A map of the special district clearly showing the following, if applicable:
    1. The special district's boundaries.
    2. Municipal boundaries, if any, crossing the special district's boundaries.
    3. County lines, if the special district is in more than one county.
  4. If known, the registered agent's name, address, telephone, fax and email. If not known, file this information within 30 days after the governing body's first meeting.

Within 30 days of receiving these documents, the Program will do the following:

  1. Review the creation documents to verify the special district's dependent or independent status.
  2. Add the special district to the Official List of Special Districts Online.
  3. Notify the special district and the local general-purpose government of the status determination.
  4. Send the Annual Special District Fee Invoice and Update Form to the Special District.

Comply with the Annual State Fee and Update Requirement

When the special district files with the Program, the Program will send the Special District Fee Invoice and Update Form to the special district for the annual state fee. This fee may be prorated based on when the special district was created (see Collecting an Annual State Fee to Fund the Program).

In addition, the special district must review the special district's information on the form, make necessary changes, complete missing information, have the registered agent sign it and return it to the Program. Making sure the information on this form is correct is very important, since the Program must make the information available through the Official List of Special Districts Online. By the due date on the form, the special district must comply with the state fee requirement and return the form to the Program.

Designate a Registered Agent and Registered Office

Within 30 days after its first meeting of its governing board, each special district must designate a registered agent and a registered office, then provide that information to the following:

  1. The Special District Accountability Program.
  2. The Local Governing Authority (each local general-purpose government in which the special district is located).

Registered Agent Defined

A registered agent is an agent of the special district upon whom any process, notice or demand required or permitted by law to be served upon the special district may be served. The registered agent must be an individual resident of Florida whose business address is the same as the special district's registered office. The registered office does not have to be the special district's place of business.

How to Change a Registered Agent and/or Registered Office

A special district may change its registered office and/or registered agent anytime by filing such changes with the county or municipality in which the special district is located and by sending an email to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Special District Accountability Program (see Additional Information - Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Special District Accountability Program Contact). This notification must occur immediately upon making the change.

Start Complying with All Applicable Reporting Requirements

Special Districts must begin complying with all applicable reporting requirements immediately. For example, each newly created special district must comply with its Annual Financial Report requirement (see The Annual Financial Report) starting with the fiscal year in which it was created, even if the special district has no revenues, no expenditures and no debt.

Develop and Maintain an Official Website

To increase special district accountability, oversight and transparency, all special districts must maintain an official website that complies with accessibility and minimum content requirements. Each new special district must have an official website by the end of the first full fiscal year after its creation.

Website Accessibility Requirements

Special district websites must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and, if the special district received federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. One way to help meet these requirements is to make websites accessible to people with disabilities who use assistive technology devices to access the Internet. Each special district should consult with its legal counsel regarding compliance requirements and should ensure that its webmaster is well trained in making websites accessible. You may test your webpages for compliance using commercial or free online checkers and evaluators and correct noted deficiencies. Examples of accessible website features include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A "skip navigation" link is present at the top of each webpage so screen reader users can bypass the various navigational links and go directly to the main content.
  • Portable Document Format (PDF) files are readable by screen readers and braille displays. Unless remediated, scanned documents are not compliant. As an alternative, the content is provided in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).
  • Links are descriptive so they make sense when read out of context.
  • Links are unique.
  • Acronyms have the proper markup to tell screen readers what to read.
  • "Alt tags" are present for images so screen reader users can hear a text alternative of the image. "Long descriptions" are present for complex images, such as graphs and charts, so screen reader users are redirected to a separate text-based page that provides a detailed explanation.
  • Videos have closed captioning or plain text scripts.
  • Color is not used to convey a message.
  • Online forms contain corresponding labels.

For additional information about website accessibility, please visit the following resources:

Website Minimum Content Requirements

Special district websites must meet the following minimum requirements as applicable:

  1. Basic Requirements:
    1. Each independent special district must maintain a separate website.
    2. Each dependent special district must be prominently displayed on the home page of the local general-purpose government upon which it is dependent and linked to the special district's website. A dependent special district's website must:
      1. Be maintained as a part of the local general-purpose government's website upon which it is dependent, or
      2. Be maintained as a separate website
    3. All special districts must ensure that their official website address is on file with the Special District Accountability Program so the program can link to it from its website. To verify whether a special district's website address is on file with the program, see, Alphabetical List of Websites for Active Special Districts.
  2. Post the Following Information at a Minimum:
    1. General Information:
      1. The special district's full legal name (as cited in creation document and the Official List of Special Districts Online).
      2. A public purpose statement.
      3. The special district's boundaries / service area(s) (posting a map may be useful).
      4. The services provided.
      5. The full text of the special district's charter (creation document), as amended. Community Development Districts may reference Chapter 190, Florida Statutes - Community Development Districts, as the uniform charter, but must include information relating to any grant of special powers.
      6. The Regulatory Plan (annual) – applicable to certain special districts with adopted rules – see Making Changes to Special Districts - Reviewing and Revising Rules - The Regulatory Plan.
      7. The statute(s) under which the special district operates, if different from the statute(s) under which the special district was established. Include Chapter 189, Florida Statutes - Uniform Special District Accountability Act, since all special districts must comply with this law.
      8. Date established (effective date of creation document).
      9. Establishing entity (legislature, county(ies), municipality(ies), or Governor and Cabinet).
    2. General Contact Information:
      1. Mailing address
      2. Email address
      3. Telephone number
      4. Web address
      5. Registered agent / registered office (name and address of the registered agent on file with the Special District Accountability Program and listed in the Official List of Special Districts Online)
    3. Contact Information for Each Governing Body Member:
      1. Name
      2. Official address
      3. Official email address
      4. If applicable, the term and appointing authority (county, municipality, Governor, etc.)
    4. Revenue Information:
      1. A listing of all taxes, fees, assessments or charges imposed and collected.
      2. The rates or amounts for the current fiscal year.
      3. The statutory authority for the levy of the tax, fee, assessment or charge.
    5. General Financial Information:
      1. The fiscal year period - most special districts are required to use October 1 through September 30; some housing authorities use January 1 through December 31, April 1 through March 30 and July 1 through June 30.
      2. A link to the Florida Department of Financial Services - Local Government Financial Reporting webpage so the public can view the special district's Annual Financial Report.
      3. The final, complete audit report for the most recent completed fiscal year and audit reports required by law or authorized by the governing body of the special district.
    6. Budget Information:
      1. The tentative budget, if applicable – post at least two days before the budget hearing held pursuant to section 200.065, Florida Statutes, Method of fixing millage or other law, to consider such budget and keep it on the website for at least 45 days;
      2. Final adopted budget - post within 30 days after adoption and keep it on the website for at least two years (see General Budget Requirements)
      3. Budget amendment in which a resolution is required to adopt such an amendment (see Budget Amendment Procedures) - post within five days after adoption and keep it on the website for at least two years.
    7. Meeting Information:
      1. Regular Public Meeting Schedule (quarterly, semiannually, or annually) (see Meeting Notices)
      2. Meeting / workshop agendas - post a least seven days before the event and maintain on the website for at least one year.
      3. Meeting materials, when available in an electronic format, excluding confidential and exempt information - post at least seven days before the event and maintain on the website for at least one year.
    8. Ethics Information:
      1. Code of Ethics, if adopted.
      2. A link to generally applicable ethics provisions (one option is to link to the Florida Commission on Ethics - Ethics Laws webpage).
    9. Retirement System Information - If applicable, Defined Benefit Retirement System or Plan Information (excluding the Florida Retirement System), as required by section 112.664, Florida Statutes - Reporting standards for defined benefit retirement plans or systemsFor more information about the following retirement related website requirements, please see Additional Information - Florida Department of Management Services, Division of Retirement Contact (Local Retirement):
      1. The annual financial statements (for more information, see Additional Actuarial Disclosures) using prescribed mortality table (RP-2000 Combined Healthy Participant Mortality Tables, by gender, with generational projection by Scale AA).
      2. The annual financial statements similar to those required above but which use an assumed rate of return on investments and an assumed discount rate that are equal to 200 basis points less than the plan's assumed rate of return.
      3. Information indicating the number of months or years for which the current market value of assets are adequate to sustain the payment of expected retirement benefits as determined in the plan's latest valuation and under the financial statements prepared pursuant to (1) and (2) above.
      4. Information indicating the recommended contributions to the plan based on the plan's latest valuation and the contributions necessary to fund the plan based on financial statements prepared pursuant to (1) and (2) above, stated as an annual dollar value and a percentage of valuation payroll.
      5. The funded ratio of the system or plan as determined in the most recent actuarial valuation as part of the disclosure.
      6. The plan's most recent financial statement and actuarial valuation, including a link to the Florida Department of Management Services, Division of Retirement Actuarial Summary Fact Sheet for that plan.
      7. For the previous five years, beginning with 2013, a side-by-side comparison of the plan's assumed rate of return compared to the actual rate of return, as well as the percentages of cash, equity, bond and alternative investments in the plan portfolio.
      8. Any charts and graphs of the data provided above presented in a standardized, user-friendly and easily interpretable format as prescribed by the Department of Management Services.
    10. Public Facilities Reports, if applicable (see The Public Facilities Report):
      1. Public Facilities Initial Report
      2. Public Facilities Annual Notice of Any Changes
      3. Public Facilities Update Report

Contact Someone Who Can Answer Questions About Creating Special Districts

Additional Information - Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Special District Accountability Program Contact

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