Discussion Group Leader:
Mr. Roland Eastwood
Discussion Group Recorders:
Mr. Mike Cusick
Mr. Bob Bradley
Mr. Wayne Allen
Mr. Jean Beem
Mr. Bruce Belrose
Mr. Jack Chambers
Mr. Joseph P. Cresse
Mr. Tracey Danese
Mr. Gray Dunlop
Senator Edgar Dunn
Mr. Larry Durrence
Mr. Roland Eastwood
Mr. Lester Freeman
Mrs. Casey Gluckman
Mr. James Greene
Rep. Tom Gustafson
Dr. Richard Hodes
Mr. Dick Johnson
Mr. Hal Johnson
Senator Dick Langley
Mr. Chuck Littlejohn
Senator Patrick Neal
Rep. Vernon Peeples
Mr. Robert Raven
Mr. Glenn Robertson
Rep. Chuck Smith
Mr. James Ward
Mr. Mike Waldrup
Ms. Susan Uhl Wilson
By Mr. Frank Schnidman
The background material for this assembly describes the
platted lands issue as the "sleeping giant" of Florida's growth
problems. This discussion paper will identify the major platted
lands issues, review basic information about platted lands, and
discuss options for resolving identified problems. The format of
this paper requires brevity. For those seeking an in-depth
discussion of this issue, see Schnidman and Baker, "Planning for
Platted Lands: Land Use Remedies for Lot Sale Subdivisions," 11
Florida State University Law Review 504 (1983).
IDENTIFICATION OF THE MAJOR ISSUES
"Platting" is the formal procedure taken by landowners to
officially record maps of land subdivision. Recording of plats
consists of filing the appropriate surveyed maps with the
municipality involved, and showing that all the existing
requirements have been fulfilled. Approval of the plats includes
governmental confirmation that the plat requirements have been
fulfilled, and usually includes agreeing to accept dedication to
the public of any roads and canals once they are constructed to
governmental standards. The filing of a plat is also necessary
before lots can be legally and effectively marketed. Once the
plat is accepted, land development can begin.
The platted lands issue has become a concern in Florida
because of the substantial number of platted lots available and
because the majority of these plat approvals pre-date
environmental impact considerations and recently enacted
development review and permitting processes.
The major issues in Florida facing policy makers are how
to deal with these subdivisions in their current condition, what
to do as these subdivisions build out, and whether redevelopment
and restoration is a necessary action.
The Subdivisions in their Current State
Many subdivisions in Florida are so vast that they pose a
problem of environmental impact from size alone. Large tracts of
land have been so altered that they contribute little to the
natural environment, and little to the economic growth of the
region, other than tax revenue to local governments.
Land Use Flexibility
Single family lots comprise the bulk of the subdivided
lands. Most subdivisions were designed, developed, and marketed
primarily as leisure oriented, retirement communities. The
premature commitment of this land to detached single-family
housing prevents developers from responding to market demand for
different types of dwelling units as the area grows. One
possible result is that developers will turn to other tracts of
land to meet the new market demands and that much of the
subdivided lands could remain vacant.
Canals dug to facilitate creation of subdivided lands in
many areas have altered the estuarine fresh and salt water mix.
The rapid water transportation created by the canals has resulted
in fluctuations in salinity, to the detriment of several species
of marine life, and with potentially adverse impacts on important
The road and canal systems of the subdivisions accelerate
stormwater runoff, which may contaminate receiving waters with
pollutants formerly "filtered" through vegetation and soil. The
canal systems not only have affected the fresh and salt water mix
but may also adversely affect future water supplies because
rainfall formerly retained to recharge aquifers now is drained
The Build-Out of the Subdivisions
A substantial population increase is expected in Florida.
By the year 2000, Florida will move from the seventh to the third
most populous state, with an increase to 17.4 million people from
the 9.7 million in 1980. Realizing this growth will occur, local
officials and present residents of the subdivided areas have a
real fear that these platted lots will be built out in a manner
which will strain fiscal and environmental resources and result
in a lower quality of life.
It will become difficult for local governments to make
services available as home building increases. The unpatterned
"leap-frog" type of building that is expected makes it expensive
to provide adequate public facilities and services to new
At the same time, if existing roads and canals are not
maintained, they will deteriorate to the point of needing
complete replacement or restoration. It therefore appears that
local governments are in a situation of either maintaining
already constructed roads and canals long before they are useful,
or else allowing them to deteriorate and having to rebuild them
later. Also, many of these roads and canals were poorly
designed, and even if maintained, would still require substantial
expenditures to upgrade them to meet contemporary needs and
The ability to move residents to safe areas before a
hurricane strikes is an important planning consideration in a
major coastal state like Florida. Because many subdivisions are
so large, but have so few arterial streets, their existing road
network may prove inadequate to move a large population on short
As homes are built on the subdivided lots, the increased
number of septic systems may create a water pollution hazard.
Apparently, the soil in some of the subdivisions cannot accept
septic systems. Therefore, unless either the developer, the
owners, or the local governments provide needed sewers, building
permits may have to be denied. An additional water quality
problem may occur because local governments cannot insure that
those septic systems actually permitted will be properly
installed and maintained.
If the build-out of the subdivisions increases, the public
water systems and local governments will be faced with the
increasingly difficult task of meeting rising demands for fresh
water with limited water resources, though additional
expenditures may help resolve the problem.
The problem for local government, however, will be timing
and revenue sources. As population increases, expenditures for
increased water supply capacity may have to be made before the
tax base is in place to support the cost of such expenditures.
This is the same situation for most of the public facilities and
services which will be needed by the increasing population.
Deplatting. Redevelopment or restoration
activity will require the deplatting of
areas of the subdivisions. Section
177.101, Florida Statutes, is inadequate
for this task, and legislative amendment is
necessary if deplatting is to be a viable
Reassembly. Assembling the small lots into
large parcels for redevelopment or
restoration will be expensive, and legal
processes long and complicated.
While the extraordinary amount of subdivided yet
undeveloped land in Florida appears to constitute a needless
waste, it does represent an inventory available for future
population needs, and reflects a recent example of what has been
an historic process of real estate development in America.
The lots in these subdivisions were marketed for single
family, residential development throughout the country in
aggressive promotional campaigns, and have now been sold to
thousands of scattered owners throughout the United States and
even abroad. Many of these lot owners have apparently purchased
their lots for investment, and not for personal use, since after
many years few of the subdivided lots have homes on them.
Many of the subdivisions fail to meet contemporary
standards for development design and natural resource management.
The planning, by today's standards, was poor. Some of the
subdivisions were not planned for complete basic services, and
lot purchasers were often promised only roads and a canal system.
Furthermore, the platting and sale of the lots was not phased to
coincide with any expected rate of occupancy. Instead, virtually
all of the lots were marketed as fast as the companies could plat
them. It also appears that the developers of the large
subdivisions did not undertake studies to determine whether the
hydrological systems in the areas were adequate. In sum, the
absence of sophisticated public regulation (itself reflecting a
general lack of public awareness) allowed developers to proceed
with subdivisions which were designed to produce lot sales, as
opposed to viable long-run communities. Many of the developers
later began responding to the need for community stability, but
their early actions make the task a difficult one to accomplish.
As population pressure increases, and building on the
subdivided lots intensifies, these large subdivisions appear to
present three major concerns for state and local government
authorities, planners, and present and future residents of the
area--both for the lots in their current state and if built out.
These concerns are the provision of basic public services,
protection of the physical environment, and quality of community
OPTIONS FOR RESOLVING THE PROBLEMS
The platted lands issue evolved because of a number of
individual decisions which collectively resulted in a scale of
subdivisions in Florida beyond any expectation. It may be that a
comprehensive set of responses is now required. In short, if the
problems are found to be substantial, they may require a
substantial remedy. It may prove, however, that the identified
problems of platted lands can be divided into discrete and
isolated subsidiary problems which can be addressed
For example, it might prove relatively simple to require a
permit for further development to take place on a portion of the
platted lands which have a specific environmental problem, with
the requirement that the problem be remedied before building
could take place. At the other end of the spectrum, it may prove
necessary for some of the terrain alterations that produced the
platted lands in the first place to be reversed and the land
restored to something close to its pre-existing natural
condition. That kind of intervention, obviously, involves not
only legislative action, but a change in the landscape as well.
Continuing To Do What Is Already Being Done
The platted lands are already subject to a variety of land
use controls and regulations either at the local or state level.
It might be feasible for some areas of the platted lands to leave
these regulations virtually untouched and allow development to
continue in the current regulatory environment.
Limiting or Restricting Use
It may appear that certain areas of the platted lands
should be developed only if specific conditions can be met,
conditions that are not now considered under existing law. It
may prove important to temporarily delay the build-out process
while planning is being completed. In other words, to avoid
making irreparable mistakes, the area may need to be put on
"hold" by use of a moratorium.
There may also be specific areas that upon examination
should not be built out at all, either because of the impact on
critical environmental resources or because public facilities are
not available to sustain a large population. Rather than have a
smaller population scattered throughout the area, it may be best
to have it concentrated in a specific area, leaving other areas
Timing, Locating and Paying for Development
It may prove that the platted lands will not necessarily
require restricting the use of the lands or conditioning their
use, but will instead require that development be phased over
time in accordance with the orderly provision of public services
such as sewers, water, roads, and schools. A variety of devices
exist to phase development in this way, from direct regulation to
charging special fees for services to outlying areas.
It may turn out that some platted lands will need to be
recombined where existing lot lines themselves block alternative
and more sensible uses of the land. If recombination is to
occur, the rights of the landowners who are subject to that
recombination are a critical issue.
It may be that not only precluding development but
restoration of certain portions of the platted lands will be
required. The legal implications of this action would need
Some of the public planning objectives may encounter legal
obstacles which will either be insurmountable, or at least
sufficiently serious that it is worth governmental authorities
considering the alternative of attempting to negotiate with those
land developers who still remain involved with their
subdivisions. Financial inducements to lot swapping and
concentrating land development in specific areas are among the
I w -
By Dr. James E. Frank
Maintenance, Repair, and Replacement of Existing Facilities
The fundamental issues in infrastructure management can be
divided into two groups. First we have the problem of managing
the existing stock of community facilities in a conserving, cost-
effective way, within the resources of local government. Here we
are concerned with the problems of preserving the effective life
of facilities by timely maintenance and repair and by the
periodic replacement of facilities which become worn out or
obsolete. We are also concerned with the magnitude of the
resources to accomplish this and the ability of governmental
jurisdictions to obtain these resources.
Construction of New Facilities
The second group of issues relates to the provision of new
infrastructure associated with growth. In this instance our
interest focuses on the coordination of the land development
process with the infrastructure investment process so that
development is served with necessary facilities while not
exerting undue fiscal pressure on governmental jurisdictions.
Here the problem is one of how to achieve a partnership or
working arrangement between two sets of actors, the development
community and state/local government.
Definition of Infrastructure
This discussion paper will confine its attention to the
problems of managing the physical infrastructure of a community,
where that term is defined to mean its road network, water supply
system, sewerage system, and storm drainage network. By defining
the problem in this fashion we contrast it to other types of
infrastructure such as social and economic infrastructure which,
while also extremely important, would enlarge the discussion
beyond a manageable size. We also admit that other facilities
such as prisons, airports, schools, and libraries should be
included in a comprehensive discussion. But given that the
audience to which this is addressed is one whose main concern is
growth management, it is appropriate that we confine our
discussion to the elements most closely linked to the process of
land development--namely roads, sewers, water, and drainage.
DIMENSIONS OF THE PROBLEM
Maintenance, Repair, and Replacement of Existing Facilities
The existing inventory of roads, sewerage systems, water
systems, and drainage systems within Florida communities
represents an enormous investment in facility capacity. Each
element in these systems requires timely maintenance and repair
in order to insure efficient functioning and to prevent premature
failure. Recent news coverage of the maintenance-related
collapse of an interstate highway bridge is ample reminder of the
dangers of deferred inspection, maintenance, and repair.
Even with good maintenance and repair, facilities
eventually wear out or become obsolete and must be replaced.
Unnecessary deferral of replacement results in either
interruption of service when the facility fails, or inflated
operating expenditures required to keep the facility operating at
less than an optimal level of operating efficiency. Scranton,
Boston, New Orleans, and Wilkes-Barre all report that over 35
percent of their water is lost to leakage from distribution mains
which should have been replaced a long time ago. The cost of
compensatory storage and pumping in these communities constitutes
a significant portion of system operating costs.
Where maintenance, repair, or replacement are deferred,
there are several potential causes. First is the absence of
procedures for periodic inspection, scheduled maintenance, timely
repair, and systematic replacement. This is simply poor
management. Whoever is responsible for managing the system is
not using well-accepted management procedures. Second is the
absence of sufficient funding to accomplish each of these tasks.
This is usually a political problem arising when general revenue
funds are not being appropriated in amounts sufficient to the
task or when user fees (primarily for water and sewer) are not
being set at levels sufficient to accommodate these functions.
Because the adverse effects of deferred expenditures may not
become visible for several years, local governing bodies
frequently choose to ignore the problem when reviewing budget
While systematic maintenance, repair, and replacement are
sufficiently obvious problems, the solutions of which are
directly related to good system management and adequate funding,
there is another cluster of problems related to existing
facilities that is more difficult to define and solve. One facet
of this has to do with the impairment of existing roads resulting
from pavement openings to accommodate utility hookups, repairs,
and upgrades. We have all seen the ribbon-shaped scars in
otherwise sound, street pavement when the pavement is opened in
order to accomplish a water hook-up, a sewer line upgrade, or the
replacement of an existing storm drain. The other facet has to
do with the impairment of existing roadway capacity by the
proliferation of driveway curb cuts, on-street parking, and
intersecting cross streets. Streets originally designed to carry
a certain number of vehicles per hour can have their capacities
reduced to a fraction of their original design as a result of
Some of these problems cannot be avoided. As utility
lines wear out, they must be replaced. As development proceeds,
curb cuts and intersecting streets are necessary. But in the
typical municipality or county, there is no attempt to prevent
these factors from being excessive. This greatly inflates
resurfacing costs and unnecessarily reduces system capacity.
Construction of New Facilities
Admittedly the problem of managing the stock of existing
infrastructure facilities is substantial. But the management of
the process of installing new facilities in growing communities
is infinitely more complex. In this instance we are presented
with the problem of synchronizing the public sector facility
investment process with private sector land development
operations so that infrastructure capacity is available to serve
development in a timely fashion without exceeding the fiscal and
management capacity of the public sector.
This problem has more dimensions than can be adequately
explored in this brief discussion. Therefore, the following
paragraphs attempt only to highlight the major dimensions of the
1. The Development Stimulating Effects of Infrastructure are
Ignored in the Facilities Investment Decision. The extension of
arterial roads, interceptor sewers, and trunk water mains has a
very powerful stimulating effect on the development potential of
land. Despite the fact that these results are well documented in
the research literature, facility location decisions typically
ignore the effect which they have on the problems of managing
2. The Infrastructure Needs of Development are Ignored in
Development Approvals. The methodologies for estimating the
infrastructure needs of new development have been commonplace for
some time. Yet these needs are typically ignored in making land
use decisions, despite ample statutory authority to do otherwise.
The result is an almost ubiquitous backlog of needed
3. Management Responsibility is Diffused. Responsibility for
planning and managing new infrastructure is spread among
municipalities, counties, special districts, private providers,
regional agencies, and the State. Responsibility for managing
the development process is shared primarily by municipalities and
counties but to a lesser extent by regional and state agencies.
But responsibility for coordinating or synchronizing the two
processes--infrastructure and land development--is no one's
responsibility. What results is a process which is inherently
uncoordinated and wasteful.
4. The Underlying Factors Affecting Infrastructure Costs are
Generally Ignored. Capacity increments are lumpy. Consequently,
if facility investment decisions are not carefully coordinated
with increases in demand, costly idle capacity can result.
Economies of scale are substantial in wastewater treatment, but
lower unit treatment costs must be balanced against increased
transmission costs if the cost efficiency of the entire system is
to be maximized. The costs of infrastructure vary considerably
with site location, development density, and spatial form. But
these factors are rarely considered in land use decisions; nor do
they form the basis for assigning costs to the consumer.
5. The Need for Infrastructure Occurs at the Time of
Development, Whereas the Fiscal Resources Needed to Pay for
Infrastructure May not be Available for Some Time. The use of
long-term bonds constitutes only a partial solution to this
problem because capacity expansions are sized in excess of
Maintenance, Repair, and Replacement of Existing Facilities
The options available for managing existing infrastructure
systems group themselves into three broad areas: those related to
organizational structure and procedures for good system
management, those related to the financial support of those
functions, and those related to the protection of in-place
capacity from certain compromising actions. In simple list form,
these options are:
1. Establishment of clear administrative authority with
a separate administrator responsible for roads,
sewers, water, and drainage.
2. Installation of sound management procedures for each
a. Scheduled inspections and preventive
b. Systematic scheduling of repairs,
C. Periodic evaluation and scheduling of
d. Periodic measurement of demand loading,
e. Comprehensive records systems,
f. Cost accounting and performance measurement,
g. Annual state of the system reporting.
3. Operation of sewers, water, and drainage as self-
4. Protection of existing capacities in sewers, water,
and drainage by prohibition of hookups beyond
5. Protection of existing capacity in streets by:
a. Adoption of a curb cut ordinance,
b. Adoption of restrictive on-street parking
c. Prohibition of direct access to arterial
streets and allowance of only restrictive
access to collector streets,
d. Adoption of block length and street spacing
standards in subdivision regulations to prevent
proliferation of intersections.
Construction of New Facilities
The options available for managing the construction of new
infrastructure facilities begin with the classical approaches to
good facility investment planning, including:
1. Periodic projection of system demand,
2. Evaluation of current system capability,
3. Development of facility service policies and
4. Projection of system fiscal resources and debt
5. Overall system expansion planning,
6. Evaluation of investment projects, including
7. Five year programming of capital facilities.
Options specifically oriented to the growth management
problem which go beyond good internal management are frequently
directed at influencing the location and timing of both land
development and facility construction. These include:
1. Locationally variable facility service policies
(e.g., urban service districts),
2. Minimum density-to-serve policies (e.g., no
fire station until development density is above
3. In-fill incentives (e.g., density bonuses for
developing near existing capacity, lesser
4. Acquisition or protection of future facility
sites by dedication or reservation ordinances
(e.g., mandatory dedication of facility sites),
5. Development permitting tied to phased
infrastructure expansion (e.g., Ramapo-type
6. Adequate-facility ordinances (e.g., no
development unless sufficient capacity exists
in roads, sewers, drainage, etc.),
7. Facility capacity allocation plans, hook-up
allocations (e.g.,limit amount of development
to available capacity),
8. Advanced land acquisition.
Some options involve the use of fiscal devices to both
defray the cost of supplying facility capacity while imposing on
development decisions the infrastructure cost thereof. These
1. Impact fees,
2. Impact taxes,
3. Zonal pricing of capacity charges (e.g., sewer
capacity charges which vary by geographic zones
according to cost to serve),
4. Peak usage capacity surcharges.
Options specifically oriented to state legislative action are
numerous and include:
1. Mandatory capital improvements programming by
cities and counties,
2. Mandatory reporting of capital outlay by a
standardized system of accounts,
3. Enforcement of cross-element consistency
between land use plans and the plan elements
dealing with roads, sewers, water, and drainage
by allowing appeal of the plan to higher
4. Prior to the adoption or amendment of a zoning
a. an estimate of the infrastructure needed
to serve the zoned uses at build-out and
b. a positive finding on the fiscal
5. Mandatory estimation and central reporting of
infrastructure needs and costs for:
a. existing development,
b. development previously permitted but
c. zoning envelope build-out, and
d. land use plan build-out.
6. Modify gas tax distribution formula to reward
municipalities and counties adopting
development policies designed to protect
capacities of arterial and collector roads.
(e.g., reverse frontage requirements, non-strip
commercial zoning, intersecting street spacing,
7. Require state road decisions to take into
account the development-stimulation effects of
the improvements, provide for local
participation in those decisions, and provide
appeal of conflicts.
8. Require all development permitting authorities
to estimate, at regular intervals, the
cumulative effect of their permitting actions,
in terms of:
a. infrastructure needs induced by permitted
b. costs thereof.
SPECIAL DISTRICTS IN FLORIDA
By Dr. Jim Tait
Special districts have been a part of Florida government
since before the time of statehood. In 1822, the first special
district enabling legislation was signed by Territorial Governor
William P. DuVal. It established what became a standard
procedure for creating special districts relating to governmental
services which improved land; such as building and maintaining
roads and drainage ditches or canals. A group of interested
landowners could petition to county (or circuit) court to appoint
commissioners and establish a district. The early districts did
not have the power to tax but they could conscript workers and
ultimately were authorized to assess property improved by their
In 1854, the Legislature brought itself directly into the
act by creating a special drainage district which was authorized
to assess the lands benefitting from its actions. These two
methods of creating districts have continued to date and, through
their use, have established more than 500 districts in Florida.
In addition, numerous "dependent districts", or districts which
are part of a city or county government and not independently
governed, have been created.
When Walt Disney World chose Florida as its site and had
passed, in 1967, several legislative acts to enable them the
opportunity of using governmental powers and perquisites for
their development, a new day had dawned for Florida's government.
Up to that time districts had been formed around a single
function and to provide specifically designated services in which
the local government did not desire to engage. These included
road and drainage functions, airports, mosquito control, free
public schools, fire control, lighting, hospitals, water hyacinth
control, and recreational facilities, among others.
The legislature had even, in 1919, attempted to create a
"stump clearing" district, which evidently is the only district
to be invalidated by the Florida Supreme Court as not serving a
public purpose. It stated that "this court does not believe
that there is any basis upon which the Florida Supreme Court
would make a decision holding that the pulling of stumps or the
clearing of land is a public purpose any more than that plowing
is a public purpose." The broad latitude given"public purpose"
by the court in special district creation is at substantial
variance from their strict interpretation on urban issues (such
as urban renewal, housing, etc.). The single rejection may have
indicated more offense to their concept of farming practices than
any depth of view on public purpose.
The Reedy Creek Drainage District (1967), upheld by the
court, raised a more fundamental question of the scope of
district operations and its relationship to local general purpose
government--cities and counties. Previous districts had been
generally limited to a single purpose either uniquely benefiting
certain lands, such as a neighborhood road or drainage for
several farms or a development, or serving a broader audience in
a function where the county government had no desire; such as,
mosquito control or a hospital or fire control district. The
Reedy Creek District and its auxiliary municipalities--Bay Lake
and Buena Vista--composed a full service government over the
lands contained in the Disney complex.
Less than a decade later, two more major developers
applied for, and received, multipurpose special districts for
their large-scale developments (containing over 3,000 acres in
one case and 52,000 in the other, with a projected population to
exceed most cities in Florida--or the U.S.). All these districts
had been created by direct action of the Florida Legislature
without any comprehensive strategy to ameliorate the impacts of
these large developments on the surrounding areas or local
Regulatory actions by the state and county, including the
new land use (chapter 380) and water management (chapter 373)
laws of 1972, were the only basis for coordinating development
and services. In fact, testimony developed that the main purpose
of these districts were to provide services, and control the
timing of their provision, which ostensibly the local governments
did not want to provide. Therefore, a Ramapo-type approach to
phasing services would not be an option to the local governments
concerned. In addition, a full range of governmental services
(including fire, transportation, security and waste
removal/treatment, among others) would be provided without any
mandatory integration with other local patterns or franchises.
When districts were restricted in purpose and, oftentimes,
in area, their service patterns were usually consistent with
local desires (as in health) or did not pose a greater demand on
local and state services (as in agricultural drainage). In fact,
the districts often served a local government in removing what
was seen as a purely localized function enhancing only certain
lands (such as farm roads or drainage) from the government-wide
agenda. Problems did, however, crop up even then when a county
or city government desired to assure an integrated service
delivery or when environmental problems affecting other
jurisdictions began to be observed.
The fragmentation and lack of priority-setting and
service-integration inherent in the Florida approach of
maximizing special district options for landowners and developers
is most often mentioned by critics of special districts as a
RESPONSIVE TO WHOM
This fragmentation is often the direct result of a
perceived lack of responsiveness by the relevant local
governments to a landowner's need. For farmers and developers it
used to be drainage, roads or other physical improvements
requiring joint action with other landowners to build and
maintain. For rural or isolated neighborhoods, it was fire
control, lighting or other joint services unique to their needs.
For health services, it came more from a tradition of joint
local-state action and strong independent county health officers.
Constitutional recognition was given early to the independent
structure of free public schools.
This perceived lack of responsiveness was further
exacerbated in many areas by an inability for municipalities to
include new urban areas into their jurisdiction (annexation) and
by the traditional narrow scope of county government. Although
the first problem has certainly not been solved in Florida, the
second has been broadly addressed by new county powers and
organization flowing from the 1968 Constitution. The lack of
responsiveness now is often based on either a conflict in local
concerns over the area in question and local quality of life and
economic factors, or the inability of the governments in question
to provide adequate services and meet new demands.
In addition,'the question of control becomes central to
both the landowner and the local government in question.
Although the local and state governments have clear regulatory
authority over the development of an area, this power is often
exercised too late or under such constraints and within an
adversary context that proper development of an area is not
feasible. The assumption of responsibility by government of
services to an area which has been poorly developed is a
nightmare few public officials desire to see in reality.
On the other hand, developers, especially large-scale
developers, chafe under the restraints of a local service system
clearly unable to meet their timetable of development. In
periods of extremely costly financing, delays can easily mean
bankruptcy and the nightmare of dealing with a recalcitrant local
bureaucracy few developers view with equanimity.
So control over the development of an area is a careful
balancing of public and private interests which is seldom
effectively done by regulation alone. When services become
publicly provided, however, careful attention must be paid to
areas where externalities are minimal and private options or
appropriate financing of services are available. The special
district, in these cases, often sets standards of efficiency and
economy seldom met by large bureaucratic organizations. This is
especially true of districts who are single purpose in nature.
Another issue of control when there is an independent
special district is the governing body. Obviously the landowners
or sponsors of the district have a unique desire to see the
district carry out its function as they initially contemplated.
They oftentimes insist on full control over the district
operations and, therefore, it is sometimes difficult to separate
the public special district from some private corporate board.
In order to assure the public interest is being met, the
governing body of the special district should be distinct from
the private owners benefiting by the governmental action or, at
the minimum the local county commission or city council should
fully exercise their Chapter 218 powers to review and approve the
budget of the special district.
LACK OF INFORMATION
Special districts have been called the "dark continent of
American politics" for good reason. Until recently Florida
governmental leaders had no idea of even the number of special
districts operating, much less the scope of their activity.
Estimates ranged from several hundred to several thousand, with
the generally agreed upon figure of one thousand most often used.
The most recent census by the Department of Community Affairs
states that they have identified 511 independent special
districts excluding schools, law libraries and selected other
districts which are either not covered by chapter 218, the
financial reporting law, or are dependent (that is, without a
governing board separate from the county or city).
These 511 districts collectively represent significant
public fiscal commitments, although definitive figures are hard
to obtain even today. Although based on incomplete data, one
recent estimate of the percentage of bonded indebtedness of
independent special districts, compared to all municipalities and
counties in Florida, placed the percentage at roughly forty-three
percent, or almost half that of all cities and counties. In
absolute terms, the bonded indebtedness of independent special
districts in Florida exceeds two billion dollars.
Compliance with reporting continues to be a problem
although it has dramatically improved since 1973 when the
Commission on Local Government first identified the size and
extent of special district activity in Florida. One area which
may still be confusing is the TRIM notice of proposed ad valorem
taxes for the year. This notice lumps all special district
millages together and may act to hide some large levys--such as
the levy of the South Florida Water Management District which may
raise $50 million on less than one-half mill.
TAXES AND FINANCES
One major purpose of having a special district, other than
the control issue, is to evade the constitutional millage caps
and/or to receive the benefit of tax-free financing. Article
VII, section 9, of the Florida Constitution requires the county
or city to levy no more than 10 mills unless otherwise approved
by a vote of the electors for a period of two years, or to
finance a general obligation debt. This has further been limited
by statute, both mandatorily and politically, and has had an
inhibiting effect on local governments to engage in certain ad
valorem tax supported services or services of less than uniform
application throughout their jurisdiction. One answer to the
latter problem of non-uniform service application has been
public pricing of the services, or where pricing is not
applicable, by use of the "municipal service taxing unit" or a
kind of a "dependent service district". However, where there is
a lack of a strong local service provision, this mechanism seems
to be insufficient.
The role of special districts in Florida can be looked at
from several perspectives. These perspectives may best be viewed
individually, balanced, and then the selected options reviewed
together to create an integrated policy--something Florida has
not had in relation to special districts since the first one was
created to build a road in 1822. Florida has, however, been
striving for an integrated policy since 1974--the time of the
first ELMS and Commission on Local Government reports and of the
first special acts creating multi-purpose districts for
developers since the unique Disney World Acts of 1967.
Other than hand-wringing over the lack of information, no
other subject dominates the conversation about special districts
more than control. Control of the district; control of the local
service delivery pattern; timing and control of the building of
facilities; control over maintenance; the statements go on and
Who should control the delivery of governmental services?
This question is not often asked where there traditionally has
been a strong local government (municipality) which has responded
to service demands of its citizens. Many of these governments
developed over time and with relatively small builders (or
developers) who needed a larger governmental unit to provide
services which could not be restricted or which were required by
all. In fact, some observers have stated that too many services
have been governmentally provided and may be better (more
economically--effectively and efficiently) provided privately.
Although private utilities have not proved to be models of
economic efficiency, their service effectiveness and
responsiveness have set high standards for large, complex
Therefore, when faced with a choice of service providers
in areas where there is not a strong tradition of, or capacity
for, local government service, many opt for a blend of the public
and private--special districts. Single purpose special districts
also have the advantage of "purposiveness"; that is, blinders to
any other priority.
This again, however, raises the question of control.
Should there be prioritizing between services; between services
that would benefit primarily the new and "economic growth"
factors or those that benefit the existing and "quality of life"
factors? If so, can that control by a general governmental
unit--state, county,city--be exercised solely through regulation
or must service patterns and offerings be controlled as well, and
if controlled, must it be through direct supervision and
extension of services by the general governments?
This could be accomplished by making all "independent"
districts dependent; that is, by reorganizing the pattern of city
and county government so they will take full authority for all
local government activity in their respective jurisdictions. Two
problems appear quickly--for one, a lack of capacity and local
will create the current service delivery patterns. The current
constitutional and statutory restraints on financing create
Another option would be to encourage cities and counties
to exercise their budget review and approval power granted under
Chapter 218. This power has existed since 1974 and does not seem
to be in broad use--perhaps further indicating a lack of desire
by local governments to be involved in what they see as "narrow,"
A third option would be to place a members) of the city
or county commission on the special district governing board.
This would have to be carefully drafted to avoid conflict with
the dual office holding prohibition in the Constitution. If you
place the member in a "minority" position you also may create
more problems than you solve. You are also significantly
increasing the amount of time that the member must take in public
service. A variation may be to place the manager or some
appropriate agency head as a member.
A further option would be to grant cities and counties
broad powers to merge or otherwise assume responsibility for all
or any special district functions within their jurisdiction. One
key restraint which may need to be considered is to not allow a
local government to create an independent district--reserve that
power to the legislature. However, if there was a broad power to
merge or otherwise abolish districts, allowing local discretion
on organizing their service patterns may not be that bad.
Certainly granting broad power to create could possibly encourage
greater inter-local service agreements (especially city-county).
QUESTIONS ON CONTROL
Who controls the priority-setting for development in a
given area? How large is the area and how many owners?
What mechanisms are used to enforce priorities thus set
Regulatory Service patterns?
What are the timing sequences and options for service
available to a developer?
Is the current special district problem one of
development; that is, providing infrastructure for development?
What kind of development now can use small scale governments
(special districts)? Any more agricultural needs? Or is it all
people-related? What kind of services? Should you include
amenities (luxuries) or items which can be restricted or are not
needed by all?
Is the proliferation of special districts out of control
in Florida? Do we need a Sunset review process to review
existing special districts?
What is the status of current technology? Can you now
effectively decentralize certain services yet maintain overall
central supervision and policy-setting? What are the pricing and
What are the overall "externalities" of the development?
Can you control those externalities or appropriately finance
dealing with them? What effect do they have on "quality of life"
Great strides have been made in the last decade over the
information available about special districts. There is,
however, no single agency fully responsible for collecting and
reporting. At least four major agencies--Departments of Banking
and Finance, Community Affairs, General Services and State--are
responsible for some aspect of record-keeping. Conflicting
definitions and approaches seem to overly complicate this
activity as well as develop some potential for duplication or
wasting scarce state research resources. The identification of,
and feedback from, users of the various data thus collected has
not seemed to be of high priority.
One approach would be to consolidate the authority for the
state oversight function into one agency with mandated review and
approval of individual components of an integrated system. This
would allow the submission of an integrated budget and would
remove the possibility of duplication. It would also allow a
single focal point for the state's efforts to develop a rational,
integrated special district policy. The agency could be granted
additional powers to handle financial emergencies or to order
consolidation/merger where necessary. It could also respond to
whatever option was chosen under the control perspective.
Another approach would be to create a mandatory program
budget element which would at least identify the resources which
these four departments (and any other) are committing to the
effort. The executive could then develop a task force to
encourage coordination of effort or, because four different
independent executive authorities are involved, a statutory body
may need to be created.
As always, taking no action is an option. Unless there is
a sense of concern on the part of the political leaders with a
concomitant commitment, this may be the best of options. In
order to provide the necessary elements of a fully integrated
state approach, additional resources will be required or some
tough political decisions between organizations competing for
Under any option to take action, a set of policy
guidelines should be articulated by the Governor and Legislature.
These guidelines should address the need to minimize compliance
costs, to maximize intergovernmental coordination (create a
formal agreement with the Bureau of Census and other federal
agencies), to encourage integration with local and state planning
efforts, and to provide a detailed plan for user identification
TAXES AND FINANCE
One way to encourage careful local government review of
special districts would be to mandate, statutorily, the inclusion
of their millages under the local government cap set in Article
VII, section 9. This could hold especially true for those
districts which are located solely within one jurisdiction.
Special provision may need to be taken for multi-county districts
and districts covering areas within both a city and a county.
The choice of this option may, however, need to be delayed until
the outcome and effect of the "citizen's choice petition" is
Another option is to review the TRIM notice and to require
a breakout of certain special districts either because of
function and importance or size and millage. The advertising and
notice function may also need review, both because of
unnecessarily burdensome requirements and becoming buried under
masses of information. A possible tradeoff of local government
review with notice may be better.
Clearly, in this time of high interest rates and potential
financial emergencies, any action Florida can take to improve
financial responsibility on the part of its governmental units
will be repaid in the marketplace.
FLORIDA STATE LAW REVIEW, WINTER 1982 (VOLUME 10,NUMBER 1)
DAVID M. HUDSON SPECIAL DISTRICTS IN FLORIDA
FLORIDA HOUSE COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS STAFF REPORT:
INDEPENDENT SPECIAL DISTRICTS IN FLORIDA (FEB. 1980)
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
CENSUS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: SPECIAL DISTRICTS (DRAFT)
FLORIDA COMMISSION ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT
SPECIAL DISTRICTS IN FLORIDA (SPECIAL REPORT 1974)
FLORIDA ADVISORY COUNCIL ON INTERGOVERNMENTAL RELATIONS
BONDS OF SPECIAL DISTRICTS IN FLORIDA(DRAFT)
ANNUAL REPORT ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCES
FLORIDA URBAN AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES (FAU-FIU JOINT CENTER)
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DISTRICTS (TWO ARTICLES) JANUARY,
1982 BY KYNOCK AND VAN ASSENDERP; JULY, 1983 BY WILKES
COUNCIL OF STATE COMMUNITY AFFAIRS AGENCIES
THE FLORIDA UNIFORM COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT DISTRICTS ACT OF
1980 (DRAFT ARTICLE JULY, 1983).