Group A - Urban Policy:  Infrastructure

Material Information

Group A - Urban Policy: Infrastructure


Subjects / Keywords:
Land development ( jstor )
Local governments ( jstor )
Infrastructure ( jstor )
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- United States of America -- Florida


Jake Varn Collection - Group A - Urban Policy: Infrastructure (JDV Box)
General Note:
Box 19, Folder 1 ( Growth Management Conference - 1983 ), Item 7
Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.

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Source Institution:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location:
Levin College of Law, University of Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.


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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

October, 1983


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).


"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.

Environmental Impact

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.

Growth Capacity

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

safety standards.

Hurricane Evacuation

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


Water Quality

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.

Water Supply

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



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

completely undeveloped.

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

substantial investigation.

Government/Developer Negotiations

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

possible actions.

I w -


By Dr. James E. Frank

October, 1983


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.


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

these factors.

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

land use.

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

current demand.


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

system, including:

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-

financing utilities.

4. Protection of existing capacities in sewers, water,

and drainage by prohibition of hookups beyond

available capacity.

5. Protection of existing capacity in streets by:

I _

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

life-cycle costing,

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

development phasing)


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

ordinance require

a. an estimate of the infrastructure needed

to serve the zoned uses at build-out and

b. a positive finding on the fiscal

feasibility thereof.

5. Mandatory estimation and central reporting of

infrastructure needs and costs for:

a. existing development,

b. development previously permitted but

currently unbuilt,

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

development and

b. costs thereof.


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

I _

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

major problem.


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.


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.


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,"

neighborhood/subdivision interests.

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).


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

financing options?

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

and feedback.


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.




















1980 (DRAFT ARTICLE JULY, 1983).