Special district appointed by DeSantis considers cut in tax rate for Disney properties
TALLAHASSEE -- As a feud continues between Gov. Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Co., property owners in a special district that includes Walt Disney World could see a reduction in their property-tax rate.
Martin Garcia, chairman of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors, credited staff members Wednesday with cutting “wasteful spending” by the former Reedy Creek Improvement District board, which was effectively controlled by Disney.
“As we are doing more work, it appears that there are a number of other naughty things that this old board did with district funds,” Garcia said. “And so, we're going to look for further savings.”
One area targeted for a reduction is overtime pay for law enforcement on Disney properties. Garcia said the tab for that pay came to $8 million a year.
“Now, Disney is not the only taxpayer in this district. We have other taxpayers,” Garcia said.
District Administrator Glenton Gilzean said public safety will remain a priority.
The district includes 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties used by Walt Disney World, along with utilities, roads and the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.
The state in the 1960s created the Reedy Creek district for Disney. But DeSantis and Disney have been locked in a battle since the company opposed a 2022 state law that restricted instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in Florida schools.
DeSantis and Republican lawmakers this year replaced the Reedy Creek Improvement District with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and put it under more state control. Among the changes, DeSantis was given the power to appoint members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board.
Disney filed a federal lawsuit this spring that, in part, accuses the state of retaliation for the company’s opposition to the 2022 law. The district countered by filing a state lawsuit over development agreements that Disney and the former Reedy Creek board signed shortly before the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board took over.
The Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board have also taken steps to invalidate the development agreements.
The district will hold budget hearings in September to finalize a spending plan and tax rate.
The Board on Wednesday tentatively set a tax rate of 12.95 mills for the fiscal year that will start Oct. 1, down from 13.9 mills in the current year. Millage represents the dollars assessed for each $1,000 of value.
For the owner of a $500,000 non-homesteaded home that didn’t change in value over the past year, the proposed rate would drop property taxes from about $6,950 to $6,475.
Property-tax revenue is expected to cover $188.4 million of the district’s costs next fiscal year, up from $183 million budgeted for the current year. Permits and fees are expected to generate another $5 million for the district, up from $3.25 million in the current fiscal year.
The district anticipates $198.7 million in expenses next fiscal year, covering costs such as employees and debt. The total is up from $185.86 million in the current year.
The cost of labor is expected to grow from $56.34 million in the current year to $67.1 million.
The board on Wednesday backed a three-year agreement with the Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters’ Association IAFF Local 2117 that in part will bump minimum pay from $55,000 a year to $65,000.