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Republicans' squabble with Disney ensnares two rural North Florida special taxing districts

eastpoint water district pumps
Eastpoint Water District.
Equipment at the Eastpoint Water District.

A political spat between Republican lawmakers and Disney has morphed into legislation that would have consequences hundreds of miles away from the company's Orlando-area theme parks.

A measure under consideration in the legislature this week would require the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which is the Walt Disney Company's special independent district, on June 1, 2023. Disney collects fees to pay for a landfill, power plant, fire station and roads across 26,000 acres of property in the district.

But the bill also covers five other taxing districts across the state, including one in Hamilton County and another in Franklin County.

"These are small districts," said Sen. Loranne Ausley (D-Quincy), who represents both counties. "It’s going to require them to hire a lobbyist to come up here and to fight this battle. Is that really necessary? If we're trying to review this, isn't there another way to do this rather than dissolve them and then require them to take positive action to be reinstated?"

The measure passed in the Senate, 26-13, on Wednesday. The vote was mostly along party lines, with Republican Senator Jeff Brandes voting against the measure.

In Franklin County, the Eastpoint Water and Sewer District was established in 1967 to provide high-quality water and sewer services to residents in the unincorporated community of Eastpoint, which has an estimated population of about 2,100 residents, according to the U.S. Census.

Other independent water and sewer services operate within the county, including Alligator Point Water Resources District and a private company that also provides water and sewer services to St. George Island.

The Hamilton County Development Authority is located along the Florida-Georgia state line. It was formed in 1960 to help local businesses grow and attract new investments and industry to the county. The authority awards grants for commercial beautification projects and helps businesses apply for state funding.

If the districts were to dissolve, then the counties and cities that cover them would assume their debts and assets. The districts' ability to raise and spend revenue would also cease, though local governments could continue providing those services with funding from their own coffers.

The measure is still under debate in the House and Senate. On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis directed the legislature to take up the measure during this week's special lawmaking session to pass a new congressional map.

Copyright 2022 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.
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