LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Reedy Creek Improvement District’s Board of Supervisors held its first public meeting since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law to dissolve Walt Disney World’s ability to self-govern.
What You Need To Know
- Reedy Creek’s Board of Supervisors holds its first meeting since a bill to dissolve the district was signed into law
- Local fire union president to board: “What reassurances can I bring back to my employees?”
- Attorney: "Florida promised they wouldn’t dissolve Reedy Creek and so they can’t"
Discussion of the new law was not on Wednesday’s agenda, but District Administrator John Classe mentioned it briefly toward the beginning of the meeting, asking his team to keep doing their work with the same “high standards” as they learn more about what the legislation means for the special district.
“I remain proud of all the district has done in providing these excellent government services in support of one of the top tourism destinations in the world, and the economic benefit it provides Florida, particularly the Central Florida community,” Classe said.
Classe told the board he learned this week that a planned expansion within Reedy Creek's solar power program could be delayed because developers are experiencing financing challenges relating to the uncertainty around the legislation.
Jon Shirey, president of the Reedy Creek Firefighter Association, addressed the board during the “other business” portion of the meeting. He offered his help to the district as they navigate through potential restructuring, and pressed leaders for answers on what all of this means for his first responders.
“What reassurances can I bring back to my employees?” Shirey asked.
Shirey also accused the district of trying to silence first responders by telling them to let the district handle the messaging. He said first responders were told in a meeting with Classe and fire station leaders Monday not to comment on what’s happening on social media or to reporters.
No members of the board responded to Shirey after he finished his remarks.
Shirey told reporters after the meeting he doesn’t know if district officials are keeping them in the dark or if leaders don’t know themselves what’s next for district employees.
“What is their plan?" he asked. "What efforts are they taking to make sure that we’re going to be around for the long haul?”
Don Greer, a longtime board member, told reporters everything is still being deciphered.
“We don’t have any plans because we don’t know where we’re going,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s anybody here that knows what to do about it,” Greer added. “I think the governor and the state of Florida will have to decide that.”
Meanwhile, some legal experts have questioned whether Florida has the right to dissolve Reedy Creek.
“The basic fact is Florida promised they wouldn’t dissolve Reedy Creek and so they can’t,” explained Jacob Schumer, a Maitland-based attorney with expertise in local government law.
Schumer points to Section 56 of the state statute from Reedy Creek’s founding: “The State of Florida pledges to the holders of any bonds issued under this Act that it will not limit or alter the rights of the District to own, acquire, construct, reconstruct, improve, maintain, operate or furnish the projects or to levy and collect the taxes, assessments, rentals, rates, fees, tolls, fares and other charges provided for herein … until all such bonds together with interest thereon, and all costs and expenses in connection with any action or proceeding by or on behalf of such holders, are fully met and discharged.”
Schumer also points to the Florida and U.S. constitutions, which he says imply the promise that the tax that pays a bond based on a special taxing power won’t go away until the bond is gone or paid in full.
“I would expect (the new state law) to be challenged because there are so many people that are looking at this,” he said. “Any bondholder could bring a lawsuit based on the problem with the contract and based on the state of Florida’s promises.”
As the new law stands, Disney’s $1.1 billion in bond debt goes to Orange and Osceola counties. Orange County has the bulk of Reedy Creek’s boundaries but Schumer said it would be up to both counties to decide how to divvy up the bond debt.
On top of that, as a special district, Schumer said Reedy Creek has higher taxing powers to fund its services than the counties do.
“It might come to a situation where the counties can’t raise taxes high enough in order to pay the bonds and therefore they have to cut services,” he said.
Schumer said Orange and Osceola counties will also have to sift through all of the contracts Reedy Creek has beyond debt, including permits, and determine which county will be responsible for what.
“There’s a million questions that they should probably start answering now,” he said. “If nothing gets challenged and nothing gets thrown out and there’s no new district or anything created, (Reedy Creek dissolving is) going to happen whether we’re ready for it or not.”