Every parcel of land in Florida is covered by at least one special district. These special districts serve a necessary and useful function by providing services to residents, businesses, and property. Special districts generate billions in revenues for Florida's economy, create private-sector jobs and have a substantial impact on the lives of every Floridian and on the state's economy. For these reasons, special districts must be held highly accountable.

Chapter 189, Florida Statutes, Uniform Special District Accountability Act (Act) holds all special districts accountable and accessible to state agencies, the municipalities and counties in which they operate, and the citizens they serve. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, through its Special District Accountability Program (Program), administers the Act. The Act charges the Program with a number of duties and responsibilities as they relate to the purposes of the Act, including helping to ensure special district accountability by providing technical assistance and, when necessary, enforcement as it relates to state and local reporting and filing requirements.

The Program is a vital component of Florida's Local Government Financial Reporting System, which is a network of state and local agencies working together to collect financial and other information from all governmental entities, including special districts. The Florida Legislature, state agencies and local government officials depend on information produced by this system to monitor special districts, coordinate activities, collect and compile financial and other information and make informed policy decisions.

Program's Responsibilities

The following programmatic responsibilities help to make special districts more accountable and transparent to citizens and state and local government.

Maintaining The Official List of Special Districts Online

The Program is the state's only central location for the continuous collection, dissemination, classification, formalizing and maintenance of constantly changing information about Florida's special districts. The Program maintains uniform information about each of Florida's special districts and makes it available through the Official List of Special Districts Online. Users visiting this website can access this information through summary reports and by selecting variables of interest, customized reports.

The primary users of this online database are state and local governmental agencies (see About the Official List of Special Districts Online) that access the information to coordinate activities, collect and compile financial and other information and monitor special districts. As an example, the Florida Department of Financial Services uses the list to verify that all active special districts disclose their annual revenues, expenditures and debt by filing the Annual Financial Report. The Florida Auditor General uses the list along with the financial information from the Florida Department of Financial Services to ensure that all special districts meeting the financial threshold are providing for a financial audit and filing the Annual Financial Audit Report with the Auditor General.

Helping to Ensure the Accountability of Special Districts to State and Local Governments

When state and local agencies file Special District Noncompliance Status Reports with the Program, the Program helps the special districts come into compliance (see Accountability Overview - Technical Assistance). If the special district does not come into compliance, the Program may initiate legal enforcement through the circuit court or declare the special district inactive for dissolution (see Consequences of Failure to Comply with Required Reporting and Dissolving Dependent and Independent Special Districts Through a Declaration of Inactive Status).

Publishing and Updating the "Florida Special District Handbook"

To help ensure that special districts comply with the requirements of the Act, the Program publishes and updates the Florida Special District Handbook Online. At a minimum, this handbook must cover definitions of special districts and status distinctions, the current statutory provisions for special district creation, implementation, modification, dissolution, and operating procedures, and reporting requirements.

The Program is also required to post a schedule on its website to help certain special districts determine when its public facilities report and updates to that report are due to the local general-purpose governments in which the special district has territory (see The Public Facilities Report). This schedule is based the evaluation and appraisal notification schedule prepared by the Department of Economic Opportunity's Bureau of Community Planning.

Coordinating and Communicating Special District Information Among State Agencies

Since the Program continuously collects, classifies, and maintains constantly changing information about Florida's special districts, the Program is often the first to find out about changes that other state agencies need to know about, sometimes very quickly. As such, the Program serves as a central location for making sure this information is timely distributed to the appropriate people at various state agencies.

Providing technical advisory assistance to special districts regarding the requirements of Chapter 189, Florida Statutes

The Program answers questions and provides referrals (see Special District Resources and Contacts) when special district staff and governing body members have questions about the requirements of Chapter 189, Florida Statutes. The program may also provide, contract for or assist in conducting education programs for all newly elected or appointed members of special district governing bodies. These programs include, but are not limited to, courses on the code of ethics for public officers and employees, public meetings and public records requirements, public finance, and parliamentary procedure.

Collecting a fee to fund the Program - The Annual Special District State Fee

The Program does not receive general revenue funding. Instead, the Program is required to establish a fee schedule by rule to collect an annual state fee from each special district to cover the costs of administering the Program (see Rule Chapter 73C-24, Florida Administrative Code - Special District Accountability Program).

Around each the first of October, the Program sends an invoice to all special districts. To avoid late fees, each special district must comply with its specific fee requirement by the due date on the invoice (approximately 60 days after the invoice date). Certain special districts with annual revenues less than $3,000 can certify eligibility for a zero fee. All special districts must comply with this requirement each year.

Fee Schedule

The fee schedule corresponds with the fiscal year that most special districts must use (October 1 through September 30). Around October 1 each year, the Program mails the "Special District Fee Invoice and Update Form" to each special district. To keep the Official List of Special Districts Online up-to-date, this form also serves as an update form. Each special district must review and, if necessary, update the information about the special district on the form and return it to the Program along with the annual state fee by the due date.

The Annual State Fee

For most special districts, the annual state fee is $175 and is due within 60 days. Newly created special districts pay a prorated state fee depending upon the quarter in which it was created:

  • First Quarter (October 1 through December 31) - $150
  • Second Quarter (January 1 through March 31) - $125
  • Third Quarter (April 1 through June 30) - $100
  • Fourth Quarter (July 1 through September 30) - $75

Special districts meeting all three of the following conditions are not required to pay an annual state fee if the registered agent certifies that all of the following statements are true:

  1. The special district and its Certified Public Accountant determined the special district is not a component unit of a local general-purpose government.
  2. The special district is in compliance with the reporting requirements of the Florida Department of Financial Services (see the Annual Financial Report).
  3. Through the Annual Financial Report, the special district reported $3,000 or less in annual revenues for the most recent fiscal year in which complete annual data is available. A newly created special district that has not yet filed an Annual Financial Report must attach an income statement verifying $3,000 or less in revenues for the current fiscal year.

Upon verification, the Program will approve the zero fee. This is an annual process for all special districts wishing to qualify for the zero fee.

Failure to Comply with the Annual Special District State Fee Requirement

Any special district not complying with state fee requirements by the due date will be subject to fines up to $50 (two late notices with a $25 late fee on each notice).

Any special district not paying the state fee and fine will be reported to the State of Florida's contracted debt collection agency. This will result in additional fees and a report of collection activities to the credit bureaus.

Contact Someone Who Can Answer Questions About the Special District Accountability Program

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