What Will Happen if the Reedy Creek Improvement District is Dissolved at Walt Disney World?

In a special session today, the Florida Senate passed a bill to dissolve certain independent special districts, specifically targeting the Reedy Creek Improvement District of Walt Disney World. The bill is an attempt by Governor Ron DeSantis to remove Disney’s “special privileges” after they took a hard stance against the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The bill would still need to be passed by the Florida House of Representatives and then be signed into law by DeSantis before taking effect. Florida Statute 189.072 also states that such an act cannot be passed without the approval of the residents or landowners of a special district.

It’s unclear what will happen, but before evaluating the future, let’s take a look at exactly what the Reedy Creek Improvement District is.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District was established by a 1967 act signed by Republican Governor Claude R. Kirk Jr. The act allowed Disney to get the money and resources they needed to build Walt Disney World. Through the act, landowners within the district, including Walt Disney World, are solely responsible for paying the cost of providing municipal services. That is, local taxpayers do not have to pay for these services.

The district essentially acts as its own county government and encompasses the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, with fewer than 100 residents total. Residents of the two communities elect their city officials. The district is run by a five-member Board of Supervisors, elected by landowners (not residents).

Here is how the Reedy Creek Improvement District is described on its website:

The District is responsible to oversee land use and environmental protections within the District, and provide essential public services (e.g. fire protection, emergency medical services, potable water production, treatment, storage, pumping & distribution, reclaimed water distribution, chilled and hot water systems, wastewater services, drainage and flood control, electric power generation & distribution, and solid waste and recyclables collection & disposal); regulate the EPCOT Building Code; and operate and maintain all public roadways & bridges. The District operates on a fiscal year, beginning on October 1st and ending on September 30th; and funds its operations, services, and capital improvements by assessing taxes and fees to the District’s landowners and lessees, and by issuing ad valorem and utility revenue bonds.

Sections of Walt Disney World and Reedy Creek are in both Orange and Osceola counties. If Reedy Creek Improvement District were to be dissolved, the counties would assume all of its assets and liabilities on June 1, 2023.

Disney would no longer be able to grant itself permission for construction projects and would instead have to go through the local governments for approval.

The counties would become responsible for the Reedy Creek Fire Department and emergency medical services, as well as utilities like water and sewer systems, road maintenance, and trash collection. Employees of Reedy Creek would likely be absorbed by the counties, though it’s possible they would be let go.

Walt Disney World already pays property tax to Orange and Osceola counties, so this would not change. The counties would get to collect the tax revenue that Disney currently pays to itself.

However, the counties would also become responsible for all of Disney’s debt. Approximately $2 billion of debt would be transferred to the counties, and therefore likely become the responsibility of taxpayers, assessed at a $2,200 tax per family of four or $580 per person.

Reedy Creek operates at a loss of approximately $5 to $10 million per year, but Disney is uniquely able to pay this off with their theme park revenue. The company also receives $105 million to operate its municipal services — funds that Orange and Osceola county would probably not get.

Taxpayers would become financially responsible for necessary construction, such as road improvements. As WFTV 9 cited, many taxpayers weren’t happy when a $150 million renovation of Kirkman Road was approved in 2019 for Universal’s Epic Universe.

As for all the private contracts Reedy Creek has with other companies, Disney expert Chad Emerson told the Orlando Business Journal that those would be negated. But executive director with the Florida Association of Special Districts Inc., David Ramba, told OBJ that there would be time to reassign existing contracts and operations over to the respective county.

Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings said, “Orange County government is monitoring the special session in Tallahassee, particularly when it comes to unfunded cost shifts to local governments. We will await any final legislative actions before offering further comments.”

Osceola County spokeswoman Krystal Diaz said, “Osceola County will begin to evaluate the impact if/when legislators take any actions. We have no further comments at this time.”

It’s worth noting that the bill to dissolve Reedy Creek would also apply to other special districts established prior to November 5, 1968.

According to Spectrum News 13, this covers 133 of Florida’s 1,844 special districts. In addition to Reedy Creek, the bill also applies to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, the Daytona Beach Racing and Recreational Facilities District, the Canaveral Port District, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, Tampa Port Authority, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority, the Tampa Sports Authority, and more.

The bill could be reversed during the senate’s regular session when it resumes in January, which would be after an election and before the district would be officially dissolved. The Orange and Osceola counties could also possibly establish special districts of their own to handle Walt Disney World.

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    1. I thought conservatives were against both socialization of private capital and cancel culture.

    2. It’s the way it was done a la DeSantis tantrum style in retaliation. DeSantis acts first, thinks later.

  1. What Will Happen if the Reedy Creek Improvement District is Dissolved at Walt Disney World: “It’s unclear what will happen.” Great reporting!

    1. There is no expert on Earth that has any idea at this point, that’s why reporters are asking DeSantis, who is pretty much just saying “don’t worry about it”. You can appreciate this free service or not, but if you’re just looking to “dunk” on people in comments or on social media, we’d rather you go somewhere else.

  2. People need to understand there will be net effect to taxpayers. Yes, the counties will assume RCID debt (liabilities) but they will also be able to collect on the TONS of tax revenue WDW produces (assets). The only loser is here is Disney, who will have to now seek permission from the counties and taxpayers to build roadways, resorts, etc.

  3. Disney would have to pay the real value of property taxes now. Not just the bare minimum to keep their own property in order. I do not believe the lies that the surrounding counties would have to make up the shortfall.

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