A Brief History of Special Districts- this type of district is being proposed to maintain our canals.
Benjamin Franklin established the first special district on December 7, 1736, when he created the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia, a volunteer fire department. Residents in a certain neighborhood paid a fee to receive fire protection services. Any resident not paying the fee had no fire protection services. Soon, many volunteer fire departments formed throughout Philadelphia. This prompted Franklin to boast that his city had the best fire service in the world.
In Florida, the first special districts were created almost 190 years ago. Then, Florida was a territory of log settlements scattered between the only two cities, Pensacola and St. Augustine. The entire territory consisted of two large counties, Escambia and St. Johns, whose contiguous border was defined by the Suwannee River. Because no roads existed, the Territorial legislators had to make the long, difficult sea voyage between the co-capitals, Pensacola and St. Augustine. In 1822, the legislators voted to establish a capital in a more convenient location. A year later, two men met on a pine-covered hill, halfway between Pensacola and St. Augustine, and chose the site of the new capital. Within a year, Florida's first Capitol, a small log cabin just big enough for all six legislators, was built in what is today Tallahassee.
Early, Floridians realized that the transportation needs of a growing territory could be effectively managed by a group of local citizens organized into a district with vested powers. During the same session that the decision was made to move the capital, the Territorial Legislature also authorized the creation of the first special districts in Florida by enacting the Road, Highway, and Ferry Act of 1822. Created to establish and maintain public roads, the first road districts had no taxation authority and solved their labor needs by conscription. Men failing to report to work were fined one dollar per day.
In 1845, soon after Florida became a state, the Legislature went a step further and established the first special district by special act. Five commissioners were empowered to drain the "Alachua Savannah". To finance the project, the first special assessments were made on landowners based on the number of acres owned and the benefit derived.
The popularity of special districts to fund public works continued throughout the end of the 19th century as more settlers came to Florida. By the 1920's, the population had increased substantially in response to Florida's land boom. Many special districts were created to finance large engineering projects. Some of these special districts are still in existence today, such as the South Florida Conservancy District and the Florida Inland Navigation District. By the 1930's, the surge of new residents created the need for the first mosquito eradication district and other very specialized districts. After World War II, the baby boom and Florida's growing popularity created the need for a variety of new special districts, such as aviation authorities and hyacinth control districts. Soon, beach erosion, hospital, and fire control special districts grew rapidly along with the traditional road, bridge, and drainage special districts.
Uniform Special District Accountability Act of 1989
In 1989, the Florida Legislature passed the Uniform Special District Accountability Act of 1989 (Chapter 189, Florida Statutes - Special Districts: General Provisions). This Act sets forth the general provisions for all types of special districts, although it excludes certain types of special districts from certain sections. The Act addresses such provisions as the creation, operation, financial reporting, taxation/assessments, elections, definitions, compliance with general law provisions, (e.g., Government-in-the-Sunshine), and comprehensive planning of special districts. These provisions are discussed in more detail through the Florida Special District Handbook Online.
Special District Advantages - Reasons Special Districts Are Created
The Florida Legislature through a special act, the Governor and Cabinet through a rule, and cities and counties through local ordinances and general law authority, may create special districts. For more information about creating special districts, see Section 1 - 4: Creating, Amending, Merging, and Dissolving Special Districts; Reviewing and Revising Rules. Some of the reasons special districts are created include the following:
- Special districts create a governing board of appointed or elected members who have the expertise to focus on the specific community needs and issues the special district is addressing.
- Special districts allow municipalities and counties to focus more on general government issues.
- Special districts generate money to pay for projected growth without putting an excessive burden on other taxpayers and governments, since only those who benefit from the special district's services are required to pay.
- Special districts ensure accountability of public resources, since special districts are held to the same high standards as municipalities and counties.
- Special districts protect property values by assuring property owners that their roads, water and sewer lines, and other essential facilities and services will continue to be maintained.
- Special districts save money for affected citizens by selling tax-exempt bonds, purchasing essential goods and services tax-free, and participating in state programs and initiatives, such as state-term contracting and purchasing commodities and certain contractual services from the purchasing agreements of other special districts, municipalities, or counties.
- Special districts maintain the financial integrity of the special district by limiting its liability to civil lawsuits and providing state assistance in the event of a financial emergency.
- Special districts recruit qualified employees by offering governmental employment benefits and incentives, such as possible participation in the Florida Retirement System. Any independent special district created under a special act or general law for the purpose of providing urban infrastructure or services may provide housing and housing assistance for its employed personnel whose total annual household income does not exceed 140 percent of the area media income, adjusted for family size.