Bill regulating taxing districts gains steam


A bill in the Florida House of Representatives regulating many of Florida’s special, independent taxing districts has now been approved by a unanimous 114 to 0 vote and is moving swiftly through the Florida Senate.

But the most drastic provision, requiring districts like Indian River County Hospital District and the Indian River County Mosquito Control District, to survive a voter referendum every decade has been dropped from the bill.

Chairwoman Marybeth Cunningham of the local hospital district, which utilizes tax dollars to support a variety of healthcare programs in Indian River County, said the requirement that voters confirm the continuance of the district every ten years would have created “a serious disruption to the many agencies and programs that depend on district funding.”

The idea behind requiring that voters re-authorize the existence of special taxing districts like the Hospital District and the Mosquito Control District was to eliminate unnecessary or wasteful layers of government to save taxpayers money. What legislators didn’t fully consider before the bill was filed, however, was that most of the affected districts must recruit highly skilled or even licensed professionals to carry out their mission, and the lack of job security that an every 10-year existential referendum would cause would make challenging to hire and keep qualified employees.

Complicating matters would have been a state law prohibiting the use of government funds to advocate for a particular outcome in a referendum, so the taxing districts would have had to be extra-careful how they designed and spent money on public awareness campaigns, that anything published or distributed did not cross the line into voter advocacy.

Independent fire and emergency services districts around the state sent their fire chiefs to Tallahassee to explain to legislators that their agencies compete for firefighters, EMTs and paramedics and, since the starting pay for these jobs is often low, pension benefits and job security are major factors attracting people to public safety careers.

Mosquito control districts hire biologists and entomologists who presumably are attracted to those posts at least partially by the idea of having government job security.

For the Indian River County Hospital District, the issue was even more complex than its own tiny staff, because the grants awarded by the district support 26 different organizations doing vital work to serve the county’s poor, uninsured, underinsured and even the insured residents, from newborns to the terminally ill.

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