Clete Saunier: In defense of Florida's special taxing districts
Published: Monday, January 23, 2012 at 2:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 23, 2012 at 2:43 p.m.
The Florida Association of Special Districts (FASD) agrees that a thorough review of all state programs, taxes and government bodies is often needed, and we welcome a fact-based discussion regarding Special Districts. However, it is vital to understand that some cost-saving measures should not be decided upon on face value only and that hindsight can indeed be 20-20.
We believe that the review by the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget will affirm that Special Districts are fiscally responsible, community-focused local government entities that have a clear and specific purpose in our communities. Special Districts have always demonstrated strong levels of accountability to protect taxpayer dollars and remain steadfast in their mission to address specific community needs, and provide and maintain infrastructure and service needs that are important for area residents.
Central to the discussions that will take place throughout the review should be that Special Districts are created upon public demand and help Floridians when local or state governments were either unable or unwilling to provide crucial services or infrastructure to a community. The number of Special Districts within a county or municipality varies greatly because the number is wholly dependent on the specific needs and demands of a given area. For example, counties in North Florida may not have the same needs for water control and drainage as South Florida counties that border the Everglades. Likewise, counties on Florida’s southeast coast, with virtually no coastal marshes, will have a different need for mosquito control services as will counties on Florida’s southwest coast with its vast coastal salt marshes
where mosquitos breed.
Special Districts exist because of specific needs in a community and are focused on delivering the services that address these community needs. Special Districts deliver these services more efficiently than any other form of government, local, state or federal. A recent examination of the Florida Inland Navigation District, a special district on Florida’s East Coast designed to maintain the intercostal waterway, found that the district spent only 2 percent of its revenue on administration, putting 98 percent of the taxpayers’ dollars directly into projects (which by the way create private sector jobs). With no other government unit focused on the services delivered through Special Districts, taxpayers can rest assured that the potential for
duplicative services is eliminated. More importantly, only residents who directly benefit from the services provided by Special Districts pay for the services or infrastructure.
With regards to oversight and accountability, Florida law treats Special Districts just like cities and counties, requiring great levels of transparency. Special Districts are governed by a myriad of laws intended to provide oversight and accountability, such as Florida’s Sunshine Laws, public records laws, and standards of ethics for elected officials. The vast majority of independent Special Districts are governed by board members elected by the residents or landowners within their district. Some Special Districts have their board members appointed by the Governor, while others, like some multi-county districts, have board members appointed by the elected commissioners from each county in the district so that each county gets equal input into the decisions of the district. In each of these instances, Special District board members are ultimately accountable to the electorate for their public policy decisions, either directly to the voters who elected them, through the Governor who is elected statewide, or through the elected county commissioners.
Both political parties have publicly stated in the past that the most effective government is closest to the people and serves the people the best. I cannot think of a better description of a Special District, or a statement that bridges all party lines and helps so many Floridians. As the review gets underway, we look forward to working closely with the Governor and his team to show Floridians how their tax dollars are being put to good use every day.
Clete J. Saunier,
Florida Association of Special Districts
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