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What is a special district?
In many ways, special districts are quite similar to municipalities and counties. In fact, they are more alike than they are different. They all have governing boards with policy-making powers. They all provide essential public services. They all operate within a defined geographical area. So, what's the difference? The primary difference is their purpose. Municipalities and counties provide general governmental services and have broad powers. Special districts, on the other hand, provide specialized governmental services and have very specific, limited powers. That is why they are often referred to as units of local special-purpose government. A special district has the following characteristics:
What types of entities are excluded from the definition of a special district?
The following are not special districts:
How many special districts are in Florida? How many are in each county? How many are independent? How many are dependent?
These figures - and more - can be found in the Official List of Special Districts Online:
Why are special districts created?
Special districts are created because:
How do special districts generate revenues?
Common revenue sources include the following:
Who oversees special districts?
The primary entity responsible for overseeing a special district is not the state or a county or city, it is the special district's own governing board. Each governing board member is responsible for ensuring that the district complies with all applicable laws and conducts district business as authorized by its charter. Since special districts are separate units of local government - not state or local programs overseen by another level of government - no single state agency or person has the authority to completely oversee special districts. One of the main purposes of the Uniform Special District Accountability Act of 1989, also known as Chapter 189, Florida Statutes - Special Districts: General Provisions, is to ensure that special districts are accountable to state and local governments and the public. This Act requires special districts to comply with many of the same high standards as those of cities and counties. Examples of these standards include:
What can be done when special districts fail to comply with certain requirements?
Depending on the issue, state and local agencies - as well as citizens - can take action. For example, citizens can file ethics complaints with the Commission on Ethics; counties and cities and the Florida Legislature can conduct an oversight review of the district; the Governor may remove elected or appointed officials under certain circumstances, and the state attorney for the area can investigate and prosecute district officials who violate Government-in-the-Sunshine laws. The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee can send state auditors to a district if a financial audit warrants such action. In addition, this committee may take action against entities that fail to file an Annual Financial Report and/or an Annual Financial Audit Report (if required) with the state. When counties and municipalities fail to comply, the committee may direct the Department of Financial Services and the Department of Revenue to withhold certain revenue from them. When special districts fail to comply, the committee may direct the Department of Economic Opportunity to file a petition in Leon County circuit court to compel compliance. For more information, keep reading and see:
How can I get a copy of a special district's charter or budget or other official records?
Simply make a public records request to the special district. To find the contact information for the special district, visit the following web page (be sure to select the "detailed" option to get the name, address, and telephone number). Additionally, you may be able to find some information online:
Contact Information (to request the information directly from the special district):
How are special districts created?
Municipalities and counties may pass ordinances to create special districts within their boundaries. Usually, these special districts are dependent. However, there are exceptions, such as independent community development districts with less than 1,000 acres and certain special districts created by more than one municipality or county through interlocal agreement. The Florida Legislature, by special act, creates independent special districts and multi-county special districts, although some exceptions apply. Additionally, the Governor and Cabinet may create special districts such as community development districts larger than 1,000 acres.
How are special districts dissolved?
Special districts are usually dissolved through the same method by which they were created. For example, a special district created by a local ordinance would need to be dissolved by a local ordinance.
What is a dependent special district?
A dependent special district has at least one of the following characteristics:
What is an independent special district?
An independent special district does not have any dependent characteristics. A special district that includes more than one county is independent unless it lies wholly within the boundaries of a single municipality.
Why are special districts classified as either dependent or independent?
The classification as either dependent or independent exists primarily for state and local financial reporting purposes. For example, certain dependent special districts may have their financial reports and audits included with those of their local governing authority. Independent special districts must report separately from municipalities and counties. Additionally, a special district's classification may affect local millage caps.
If a special district has the authority to levy ad valorem taxes, must its millage rate be added to the rate set by the county or municipality?
Not if the special district is independent. However, if the special district is dependent, its ad valorem millage must be added to the millage of the county or municipality that created it. The combined total of their millage rates must not exceed the millage cap set for the county or municipality. This is an important consideration in creating a dependent special district authorized to levy ad valorem taxes.
What is the purpose of the Special District Information Program?
The Special District Information Program is a vital component of Florida's Local Government Financial Reporting System. The program serves many customers by coordinating intergovernmental activities, promoting accountability, and providing technical assistance as it relates to Florida's special districts. Read more about the program in the Florida Special District Handbook Online (Special District Information Program - Introduction).
Why does Chapter 189, Florida Statutes, require all special districts to register with and provide updates to the Special District Information Program?
Each special district must register with and provide updates to the Special District Information Program, which is responsible for disseminating special district information, classifying their status, and providing special district information to state and local agencies. Florida's Local Government Financial Reporting System requires the state to collect timely, accurate, uniform, and cost-effective financial and other information regarding local governments. For this system to produce accurate data, state and local agencies must be aware of the existence of all special districts. Special districts, counties, municipalities, and state agencies, including the Special District Information Program, have vitally important roles and responsibilities in this system. Members of the Legislature and other appropriate officials rely on the information this system produces to enhance citizen participation in local government, improve the financial condition of local governments, provide essential government services efficiently and effectively, and improve decision making by the Legislature, state agencies, and local government officials on matters relating to local government. Additionally, state and local agencies use contact information from the program's Official List of Special Districts Online to communicate with special districts.
How do special districts register with the Special District Information Program?
Within 30 days after the date the special district is created, the special district must provide the following to the Special District Information Program (address in page footer - for fax and email, see Contact Information):
What if a special district did not register with the Special District Information Program within 30 days?
Better late than never. Please register right away.
Why are special districts required to pay a $175 annual fee to the Department of Economic Opportunity?
The purpose of the fee is to pay the costs for the department to administer the Uniform Special District Accountability Act of 1989 through the Special District Information Program. This Act requires the department to establish a fee schedule for this purpose. All special districts must follow this fee schedule, which is set up to correspond with the fiscal year that most special districts must use (October 1 through September 30). The Special District Information Program sends an invoice to all special districts during the first quarter of the fiscal year. Each special district must comply with its specific fee requirement by the due date on the invoice (approximately 60 days after the invoice date) to avoid late fees. Certain special districts with annual revenues of less than $3,000 can apply for a zero fee.
What is a registered agent and registered office?
A registered agent is an agent of the district who may legally be served with any process, notice, or demand that is required or permitted by law to be served upon the district. A registered agent must be an individual resident of Florida whose business address is identical to the registered office of the district. The registered office may be, but does not need to be, the same as the place of business of the special district. Common types of registered agents include the special district's attorney, the chair of its governing board, a county administrator or a city manager. A special district may change its registered office and/or registered agent anytime by filing such changes with the local governing authority in which the special district is located and with the Department of Economic Opportunity, Special District Information Program via fax, mail, or email (see contact information). The Program does not provide a form for registered agent/office changes other than the Special District Fee Invoice and Update Form, which we mail to all special districts each October.
My question was not covered here! How can I get an answer?
Visit our Additional Special District Information and Resources page and contact the appropriate specialist who has expertise in your area of interest (for example, ad valorem taxes, bond financing, financial issues, ethics, public records, Government-in-the-Sunshine, etc.).
Visit the Florida Special District Handbook Online, which covers many special district issues in detail and provides direct links to other sources, including the Florida Statutes:
Call or email us directly - see contact information.