Tavares, FL April 28, 2014 by Vance Jochim www. FiscalRangers.com Updated 4/28/2014
Short URL to this page: http://tinyurl.com/llg7qu9
Florida has over 1500 special districts for water, CRA's (Community Redevelopment Agendies), mosquito abatement, etc.
It is my experience that there is NO OVERSIGHT over these agencies. They are created following Florida laws, but the Florida Government does not audit or monitor them at all (very little).
As a consequence, most districts are managed by a committee or perhaps a City Council, and decisions are made that may not be in the public interest or meet the objectives defined by Florida. In some other states, like California, there were massive abuses of Special District funds.
Here is Florida's central website for special districts with details on all 1635+ Special Districts:
Florida has only ONE person to administer special districts, Jack Haskins:
- Jack Gaskins Jr.
- E-mail Jack Gaskins Jr.
- (850) 717-8430
- Mr. Gaskins created a Powerpoint in Apr. 2014 on Special Districts which is here: http://www.floridajobs.org/fhcd/sdip/files/SpecialDistrictPresentation.pdf << We recommend you view this for an overview
Index of Section Contents
- This is a living document and updates will be posted here periodically
A. Florida Legislation and Administration of Special Districts
B. Legislation & Florida Government Actions related to Special Districts:
Florida Special Districts are governed primarily by Chapter 189 of the Florida Statutes.
Florida SB-1632 & HB-1237 to Improve Accountability over Special Districts Passed Senate & House - now going to Gov. Scott to sign (Apr. 28, 2014).
Note: In the April, 2014 Florida Legislation session, local Lake County Rep. Larry Metz filed a bill to revise and streamline the above Chapter 189 and improve oversight, which is Bill HB-1237 (2014) which is here. It's Senate companion bill is SB-1632. Here is an article on how it passed the Senate on 4/28/2014: http://www.thefloridacurrent.com/article.cfm?id=37391050&utm_source=not_lt_user&utm_medium=article_link&utm_campaign=current_email
Here is the page for HB-1237, where Rep. Larry Metz rewrote the Special District laws in the proposed bill to provide oversight. http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail.aspx?BillId=52529
In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott issued an Executive Order EO-12-10 to have staff review all the Special Districts. Here is their webpage: http://www.flspecialdistrictreview.state.fl.us/Default.aspx?groupId=0
As of April 28, 2014, after 18 NO reports were posted on reviews, only background sheets on three categories.
C. Articles on Special Districts on FiscalRangers.com
Here is a search of FiscalRangers.com articles on "Districts" - http://webworks.typepad.com/.services/blog/6a00d834632be569e200d8342dbdba53ef/search?filter.q=special+districts
Here is the FiscalRangers.com Factsheet on CRA's (Community Redevelopment Agencies) : http://tinyurl.com/CRAproblems
Here is a search list for FiscalRangers articles on CRA'S: http://webworks.typepad.com/.services/blog/6a00d834632be569e200d8342dbdba53ef/search?filter.q=cra (not the same as the CRA Factsheet above)
D. Oversight & Accountability of Special Districts
This is right from the Florida State website on Special Districts & indicates the problem:
"What May Happen When Special Districts Fail to Comply with Certain Requirements
Since special districts are separate units of local government - not state or local programs overseen by another level of government - no single state agency or person has the authority to completely oversee special districts. The primary entity responsible for overseeing a special district is the special district's own governing board. Each governing board member is responsible for ensuring that the special district complies with all applicable laws and conducts its business as authorized by its charter and adopted budget."
That means if the local governing Board takes bribes, sells land at lower than market rates to insiders, etc. there is no one providing oversight and many actions are hidden from public view. For instance there is NO requirement that a special district have an updated website with key details on it, including budgets, applicable laws, minutes, etc.
The Florida State Auditor General does NOT audit special districts, but received and stores financial reports. There are no rotating or required performance audits to review efficiency, effectiveness & economy. Here is the page for the "filed" special district financial audits (i.e a routine CPA type audit). http://www.myflorida.com/audgen/pages/specialdistricts%20a-c.htm
E. Special District Associations & Reference Sources
1. Florida Association of Special Districts - http://www.fasd.com/
R. Our FiscalRangers.com Recommendations to Improve Oversight & Accountability of Special Districts
1. Mandate every District have a dedicated webpage with defined & updated contents. Contents should include all applicable and prior laws, list of governing board members with emails & phones, contact info for the Districts attorney or key business contact, management reports, meeting Powerpoints, meeting handouts, a link to an online audio recording of meetings (required - use Soundcloud.com or other service) , links to optional video recordings of meetings, copies of ads submitted to "notice" the meetings, meeting calendars, meeting agendas, meeting minutes, proposed & pending budgets, applicable reports related to affected groups, all financial and audited financial reports. Nothing is to be removed in order to maintain public access to earlier documents.
2. Website Links to Special Districts should be on tax bills & TRIM notices - Special Districts that receive Property Tax Revenues should be required to have phone and webpage in a list of all Tax Authorities listed on the websites of the County Tax Collector AND the County Property Appraiser. The reason is that currently, there may only be cryptic initials for the tax on TRIM notices and tax bills and a phone number that goes usually to a central operator who has no clue about special district details.
3. Mandatory Performance Audits - Mandate that County Auditors (or Inspector Generals) conduct a full performance audit of every Special District at least every three years.
4. Modification of Florida Laws to Allow Florida Auditor General to receive hotline tips and initiate audits of specific special districts without Legislator or elected official approvals. Reasons could include analysis showing questionable spending, tips from the public, etc.
5. Require Defined Annual Performance Benchmarks & Performance Reports & Trend Reports for each category of special district. Trend reports should be timely and continuous, with no dropping of earlier years data.
6. Require objective professional appraisals of property to be bought or sold, including land, buildings, etc.
7. Define Unacceptable Practices Policies which must be signed by each member of the governing board and administrative managers. Examples would be to prohibit selling land above market prices or buying property above independently appraised market values.
8. Mandate a Policy to Register all Lobbyists contacting Governing Board members. See recommendations in Broward Bulldog article in section X. below.
9. Independent Special Districts should be required to sunset or have local referendums to extend them every 10 years. No Independent Districts should be allowed to continue more than 10 years without a public vote to extend their term. Independent districts are less efficient since they have totally separate operations and duplicate staff services of County or Cities that they could integrate with as dependent districts. Included would be a mandatory cost analysis and performance audit, and development of a comparison of costs for staff services as an independent District versus being a County or City managed Dependent District.
X. Articles about Florida Special Districts
Broward Bulldog - Jan. 15, 2014 - http://www.browardbulldog.org/2014/01/independent-special-districts-where-lobbyists-ride-free-and-the-public-is-in-the-dark/ Special Districts do not require registration of lobbyists who meet with governing council members. This is a LONG, excellent expose of Florida Special Districts funded by a grant.
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