Florida Special District Handbook Online:
Making Changes to Special Districts

This section covers making various changes to special districts. Whenever a special district's charter is amended, the special district must file a copy (electronic submission is preferred) with the Special District Accountability Program within 30 days (see Additional Information - Department of Economic Opportunity, Special District Accountability Program Contact).

Amending Special District Charters

With the exception of the processes described below, the entity originally establishing a special district may amend the charter and/or boundaries of that special district, pursuant to the amendment processes contained in the charter. Recommendation: If the charter does not contain a "Status Statement" referencing the special district's independent or dependent status and the basis for such classification, or any other charter requirements, consider adding such references during the amendment process (see Creating Special Districts)

Merging Special Districts

With the exception of community development districts implemented pursuant to Chapter 190, Florida Statutes, or to water management districts created and operated pursuant to Chapter 373, Florida Statutes, the following describes how to merge dependent and independent special districts.

Merging Dependent Special Districts

Counties and municipalities, by ordinance, may merge their own dependent special districts. A county may not merge a special district that is dependent to a municipality or vice versa, and a county or municipality may not merge a dependent district created by special act.

Unless otherwise provided by general law, the Florida Legislature may merge an active dependent special district created and operating pursuant to a special act.

A referendum is not required to merge a dependent special district created by special act if that special district meets any criteria for being declared inactive (see Dissolving Dependent and Independent Special Districts Through a Declaration of Inactive Status).

Merging Independent Special Districts Created by Special Act

  • The Legislature, by special act, may merge independent special districts created and operating pursuant to special act.
  • The special act merging the special districts must be approved at separate referenda of the impacted local governments by a majority of the resident electors.

Or

  • For special districts in which a majority of governing body members are elected by landowners, a majority of the landowners voting in the same manner by which each independent special district's governing body is elected.

The special act merging the special districts must include a plan of merger that addresses transition issues such as:

  • Effective Date
  • Governance
  • Administration
  • Powers
  • Pensions
  • Assumption of all assets and liabilities

If a county or municipality passes an ordinance or resolution in support of the merger, the county or municipality must pay any expenses associated with the referendum.

Merging Independent Special Districts Created by a County or Municipality

A county or municipality may merge an independent special district created by the county or municipality pursuant to a referendum or any other procedure by which the independent special district was created. However, if the independent special district has ad valorem taxation powers, the same procedure required to grant the ad valorem taxation powers is required to merge the special district. Any political subdivision proposing the involuntary merger must pay any expenses associated with the referendum.

Merging Independent Special Districts That Are Inactive

An independent special district that meets any criteria for being declared inactive, or that has already been declared inactive by the Department pursuant to section 189.062, Florida Statutes, special procedures for inactive districts, may be merged by special act without a referendum (see also Dissolving Dependent and Independent Special Districts Through a Declaration of Inactive Status).

Voluntarily Initiating the Merger of Independent Special Districts Created by Special Act

Two or more special districts may elect to merge into a single independent special district if each of these criteria is met:

  1. They are contiguous
  2. They have similar functions
  3. They have elected governing bodies (does not apply to independent special districts whose governing bodies are elected by district landowners voting the acreage owned within the district)

Two ways exist to initiate the merger proceedings:

  1. Joint Merger Plan by Resolution, which is initiated by the governing body of each special district
  2. A qualified elector initiative, which is initiated by the electors of each special district

Joint Merger Plan by Resolution (initiated by the governing bodies)

The governing bodies of two or more contiguous independent special districts may, by joint resolution, endorse a proposed joint merger plan to commence proceedings to merge the districts. This plan must specify:

  1. The name of each special district to be merged;
  2. The proposed special district's:
    • Name
    • Rights, Duties, and Obligations
    • Territorial Boundaries
    • Governmental organization insofar as it concerns elected and appointed officials and public employees, along with a transitional plan and schedule for elections and appointments of officials
  3. A fiscal estimate of the potential cost or savings as a result of the merger;
  4. Each special district's assets, including, real and personal property and the current value;
  5. Each special district's liabilities and indebtedness, bonded and otherwise, and the current value;
  6. Terms for the assumption and disposition of existing assets, liabilities, and indebtedness of each special district (jointly, separately, or in defined proportions);
  7. Terms for the common administration and uniform enforcement of existing laws within the proposed merged special district;
  8. The times and places for public hearings on the proposed joint merger plan;
  9. The times and places for a referendum in each special district on the proposed joint merger plan, along with the referendum language to be presented for approval;
  10. The effective date of the proposed merger.

The resolution endorsing the proposed joint merger plan:

  • Must be approved by a majority vote of the governing bodies of each special district.
  • Must be adopted at least 60 business days before any general or special election on the proposed joint merger plan.

Within five business days after the governing bodies approve the resolution endorsing the proposed joint merger plan, the governing bodies must:

  • Display for public inspection in at least three public places within the boundaries of each special district, or if fewer than three public places exists in any special district, display in all public places:
    • A copy of the proposed joint merger plan
    • A descriptive summary of the plan
  • Post on a website maintained by each special district - or on a website maintained by the county or municipality in which the special districts are located - the following:
    • The proposed joint merger plan
    • A descriptive summary of the plan
    • A reference to the public places where a copy of the plan may be examined
  • Once each week for four successive weeks, publish in a newspaper of general circulation within each special district:
    • A descriptive summary of the proposed joint merger plan
    • A reference to the public places where a copy of the plan may be examined

The governing body of each special district must schedule one or more public hearings on the proposed joint merger plan.  Each public hearing:

  • Must be held on a weekday
  • Must be held at least seven business days after the day the first advertisement is published
  • Must be held jointly or separately by the governing bodies of each special district
  • Must give any interested person residing in the respective district a reasonable opportunity to be heard on any aspect of the proposed merger.

The notice of the public hearing:

After the final public hearing, the governing bodies of each special district may amend the proposed joint merger plan if the amended version complies with the notice and public hearing requirements previously summarized. Then, the governing bodies may:

  • Approve a final version of the joint merger plan (must occur within 60 business days after the final hearing) or
  • Decline to proceed further with the merger.

If each governing body approves the final version of the joint merger plan, each governing body must notify the supervisors of elections (in each of the applicable counties in which district is located) of the adoption of the resolution by each governing body. The supervisors of elections will schedule a separate referendum for each special district. The referenda may be held in each special district on the same day, or on different days, but no more than 20 days apart.

Notice of a referendum on the merger must be provided pursuant to the notice requirements in Section 100.342, Florida Statutes, Notice of special election or referendum.  At a minimum, the notice must include:

  1. A brief summary of the resolution and joint merger plan;
  2. A statement as to where a copy of the resolution and joint merger plan may be examined;
  3. The names of each special district to be merged and a description of their territory;
  4. The times and places at which the referendum will be held; and
  5. Such other matters as may be necessary to call, provide for, and give notice of the referendum and to provide for the conduct thereof and the canvass of the returns.

The referenda must be held in accordance with the Florida Election Code and may be held pursuant to section 101.6101 - 101.6107, Florida Statutes. All costs associated with the referenda shall be borne by each respective special district.

The ballot question in such referendum must be in substantially the following form:

Shall (name of special district) and (name of special district or special districts) be merged into (name of newly merged independent district)?

YES

NO

If the special districts proposing to merge have disparate millage rates, the ballot question in the referendum must be in substantially the following form:

Shall (name of special district) and (name of special district or special districts) be merged into (name of newly merged independent district) if the voter-approved maximum millage rate within each independent special district will not increase absent a subsequent referendum?

YES

NO

The ballots must be counted, returns made and canvassed, and results certified in the same manner as other elections or referenda for the special district.

The merger may not take effect unless a majority of the votes cast in each special district are in favor of the merger. If one of the special districts does not obtain a majority vote, the referendum fails and merger does not take effect, and the merger process may not be initiated for the same purpose within two years after the date of the referendum.

If the merger is approved, see General Information Concerning Approval of the Joint Merger Plan or Elector-Initiated Merger Plan.

Qualified Elector-Initiated Merger Plan (initiated by the electors)

The qualified electors of two or more contiguous independent special districts may commence a merger proceeding by each filing a petition with the governing body of their respective special district proposing to be merged. The petition:

  • Must contain the signatures of at least 40 percent of the qualified electors of each special district
  • Must be submitted to each special district’s governing body no later than one year after the start of merger process.

The form of the petition must comply with, and be circulated in, as follow:

PETITION FOR

INDEPENDENT SPECIAL DISTRICT MERGER

We, the undersigned electors and legal voters of (name of special district), qualified to vote at the next general or special election, respectfully petition that there be submitted to the electors and legal voters of (name of special district or special districts proposed to be merged), for their approval or rejection at a referendum held for that purpose, a proposal to merge (name of special district) and (name of special district or special districts).

In witness thereof, we have signed our names on the date indicated next to our signatures.

Date Name Home Address

(print under signature)

The petition must be validated by a signed statement by a witness who is:

  • A duly qualified elector of one of the special districts
  • A notary public, or
  • Another person authorized to take acknowledgments

A statement that is signed by a witness who is a duly qualified elector of the respective special district shall be accepted for all purposes as the equivalent of an affidavit. Such statement must be in substantially the following form:

I, (name of witness), state that I am a duly qualified voter of (name of special district). Each of the (insert number) persons who have signed this petition sheet has signed his or her name in my presence on the dates indicated above and identified himself or herself to be the same person who signed the sheet. I understand that this statement will be accepted for all purposes as the equivalent of an affidavit and, if it contains a materially false statement, shall subject me to the penalties of perjury.

Date Signature of Witness

A statement that is signed by a notary public or another person authorized to take acknowledgments must be in substantially the following form:

On the date indicated above before me personally came each of the (insert number) electors and legal voters whose signatures appear on this petition sheet, who signed the petition in my presence and who, being by me duly sworn, each for himself or herself, identified himself or herself as the same person who signed the petition, and I declare that the foregoing information they provided was true.

Date Signature of Witness

The appropriately signed petition:

  • Must be filed with the governing body of each special district
  • Must be submitted to the supervisors of elections of the counties in which the special districts are located

Within 30 business days after receipt of the petitions, the supervisors of elections must

  • Certify to the governing bodies the number of signatures of qualified electors contained on the petitions
  • Upon verification that 40 percent of the qualified electors have petitioned for merger and that all such petitions have been executed within one year after the date of the initiation of the qualified-elector merger process, the governing bodies of each special district must meet within 30 business days to prepare and approve by resolution a proposed elector-initiated merger plan. The proposed plan must include:
    1. The name of each special district to be merged
    2. The proposed special district’s:
      • Name
      • Rights, Duties, and Obligations
      • Territorial Boundaries
      • Governmental organization insofar as it concerns elected and appointed officials and public employees, along with a transitional plan and schedule for elections and appointments of officials
    3. A fiscal estimate of the potential cost or savings as a result of the merger;
    4. Each special district’s assets, including real and personal property, and the current value
    5. Each special district’s liabilities and indebtedness, bonded and otherwise, and the current value
    6. Terms for the assumption and disposition of existing assets, liabilities, and indebtedness of each special district (jointly, separately, or in defined proportions)
    7. Terms for the common administration and uniform enforcement of existing laws within the proposed merged special district
    8. The times and places for public hearings on the proposed joint merger plan
    9. The effective date of the proposed merger.

The resolution endorsing the proposed elector-initiated merger plan:

  • Must be approved by a majority vote of the governing bodies of special district
  • Must be adopted at least 60 business days before any general or special election on the proposed elector-initiated plan

Within five business days after the governing bodies of each special district approve the proposed elector-initiated merger plan, the governing bodies must:

  • Display for public inspection in at least three public places within the boundaries of each special district, or if fewer than three public places exists in any special district, display in all public places:
    • A copy of the proposed elector-initiated merger plan
    • A descriptive summary of the plan
  • Post on a website maintained by each special district - or on a website maintained by the county or municipality in which the districts are located – the following:
    • The proposed elector-initiated merger plan
    • A descriptive summary of the plan
    • A reference to the public places where a copy of the plan may be examined
  • Once each week for four successive weeks, publish in a newspaper of general circulation within each special district:
    • A descriptive summary of the proposed elector-initiated merger plan
    • A reference to the public places where a copy of the plan may be examined

The governing body of each special district must schedule one or more public hearings on the proposed elector-initiated merger plan. Each public hearing:

  • Must be held on a weekday
  • Must be held at least seven business days after the day the first advertisement is published
  • Must be held jointly or separately by the governing bodies of each special district
  • Must give any interested person residing in the respective district a reasonable opportunity to be heard on any aspect of the proposed merger.

The notice of the public hearing:

After the final public hearing, the governing bodies of each special district may amend the proposed elector-initiated merger plan if the amended version complies with the notice and public hearing requirements previously summarized. Then, the governing bodies must approve a final version of plan within 60 business days after the final hearing.

Next, the governing bodies must notify the supervisors of elections of the applicable counties in which the special district is located of the adoption of the resolution by each governing body. The supervisors of elections will then schedule a date for the separate referenda for each special district. The referenda may be held in each special district on the same day, or on different days, but no more than 20 days apart.

Notice of a referendum on the merger must be provided pursuant to the notice requirements in section 100.342, Florida Statutes, Notice of special election or referendum. At a minimum, the notice must include:

  1. A brief summary of the resolution and elector-initiated merger plan;
  2. A statement as to where a copy of the resolution and petition for merger may be examined;
  3. The names of each special district to be merged and a description of their territory;
  4. The times and places at which the referendum will be held; and
  5. Such other matters as may be necessary to call, provide for, and give notice of the referendum and to provide for the conduct thereof and the canvass of the returns.

The referenda must be held in accordance with the Florida Election Code and may be held pursuant to Sections 101.6101 - 101.6107, Florida Statutes. All costs associated with the referenda shall be borne by each special district.

The ballot question must be in substantially the following form:

Shall (name of special district) and (name of special district or special districts) be merged into (name of newly merged independent district)?

YES

NO

If the separate special districts proposing to merge have disparate millage rates, the ballot question in the referendum placed before the qualified electors of each special district must be in substantially the following form:

Shall (name of special district) and (name of special district or special districts) be merged into (name of newly merged independent district) if the voter-approved maximum millage rate within each independent special district will not increase absent a subsequent referendum?

YES

NO

In any such referendum, the ballots must be counted, returns made and canvassed, and results certified in the same manner as other elections or referenda for the special district.

The merger may not take effect unless a majority of the votes cast in each special district are in favor of the merger. If one of the special districts does not obtain a majority vote, the referendum fails, and merger does not take effect and the merger process may not be initiated for the same purpose within two years after the date of the referendum.

General Information Concerning Approval of the Joint Merger Plan or Elector-Initiated Merger Plan

If the merger is approved, the merged special district is created. Upon approval, the merged special district must:

Each special district must continue to be governed as before the merger until the effective date specified in the adopted joint merger plan.

Effective Date of the Plan

The effective date of the merger will be the date provided in the plan.  It is not contingent upon the future act of the Legislature.

However, as soon as practicable, the newly merged special district must, at its own expense, submit a unified charter for the merged special district to the Legislature for approval. This charter must make the powers of the district consistent within the merged special district and repeal the special acts of the districts which existed before the merger.

Within 30 business days after the effective date of the merger, the newly merged special district’s governing body must hold an organizational meeting to implement the provisions of the plan.

Transition Period Restrictions

Until the Legislature formally approves the unified charter by passing a special act, the previously separate special districts are considered to be a subunit of the merged special district subject to the following restrictions:

  • The merged special district is limited in its powers and financing capabilities to those that existed within the boundaries of each previously separate special district before the merger.
  • The merged special district may not, solely by reason of the merger, increase its powers or financing capability.
  • The merged special district shall exercise only the legislative authority to levy and collect revenues within the boundaries of each previously separate special district before the merger, including the authority to levy ad valorem taxes, non-ad valorem assessments, impact fees, and charges.
  • The merged special district may not, solely by reason of the merger or the legislatively approved unified charter, increase ad valorem taxes on property within the original limits of each previously separate special district before the merger unless the electors of each approve an increase at a subsequent referendum of the electors of each. Each subunit may be considered a separate taxing unit.
  • The merged special district may not, solely by reason of the merger, charge non-ad valorem assessments, impact fees, or other new fees within the previous separate special districts that were not otherwise previously authorized to be charged.
  • Each previously separate special district must continue to file all information and reports (such as The Annual Financial Report and The Annual Financial Audit Report separately until the Legislature formally approves the unified charter pursuant to a special act.

Effect of Merger

Beginning on the effective date of the merger, the merged special district will be treated and considered for all purposes as one entity under the name and on the terms and conditions set forth in the plan.

  • All rights, privileges, and franchises of each separate special district and all assets, real and personal property, books, records, papers, seals, and equipment, as well as other things in action, belonging to each separate special district before the merger will be deemed as transferred to and vested in the merged special district without further act or deed.
  • All property, rights-of-way, and other interests are as effectually the property of the merged special district. The title to real estate, by deed or otherwise, under the laws of Florida vested in the separate special district before the merger may not be deemed to revert or be in any way impaired by reason of the merger.
  • The merged special district is in all respects subject to all obligations and liabilities imposed and possesses all the rights, powers, and privileges vested by law in other similar entities.
  • Upon the effective date of the merger, the merger plan, as appropriate, is subordinate in all respects to the contract rights of all holders of any securities or obligations of each separate special district outstanding at the effective date of the merger.
  • The new registration of electors is not necessary as a result of the merger, but all elector registrations of each separate special district shall be transferred to the proper registration books of the merged special district, and new registrations shall be made as provided by law as if no merger had taken place.

Governing Body of Merged Special District

From the effective date of the merger until the next general election, the governing body of the merged special district will be comprised of the governing body members of each separate special district.  These members will serve until the governing body members elected at the next general election take office.

Beginning with the next general election after the merger, the governing body of the merged special district will be comprised of five members. The office of each governing body member will be designated by seat, which will be distinguished from other body member seats by an assigned numeral: 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.

The governing body members that are elected in this initial election will serve unequal terms of two and four years in order to create staggered membership of the governing body:

  • Member seats 1, 3, and 5 will be for four-year terms; and
  • Member seats 2 and 4 will be for two-year terms.

In general elections thereafter, all governing body members will serve four-year terms.

Various Legal Issues

For more information on various legal effects of the merger, see Chapter 189, Part VII, Florida Statutes, Merger and Dissolution.

Municipal Conversion / Incorporation of Special Districts

Elector-Initiated and Approved Referendum

Upon an elector-initiated and approved referendum, the following independent special districts may convert to a municipality:

  1. The special district must have been created by Special Act of the Legislature.
  2. The special district must be designated as:
    1. an improvement district created pursuant to Chapter 298, Florida Statutes, or,
    2. a stewardship district created pursuant to section 189.404, Florida Statutes
  3. The special district must have an elected governing body.
  4. The special district's governing body must agree to the conversion.
  5. The special district must provide at least four of the following municipal services:
    1. Water
    2. Sewer
    3. Solid Waste
    4. Drainage
    5. Roads
    6. Transportation
    7. Public Works
    8. Fire and Rescue
    9. Street Lighting
    10. Parks and Recreation
    11. Library or Cultural Facilities
  6. The special district cannot have any territory within the jurisdictional limits of a municipality.

For more information, see Chapter 165, Florida Statutes - Formation of Local Governments.

Incorporation or Annexation of a Community Development District

Community Development Districts may incorporate or be annexed into a municipality. Part of the process requires the following:

  • The Community Development District must determine if it meets the population standards required for incorporation and,
  • The Department of Economic Opportunity must review the district's population estimate to determine if the estimate is based upon a professionally acceptable method. To make this request, please contact the planner assigned to the county or municipality in which the Community Development District is located:

The Department continuously monitors the status of all special districts.  To find out the status of any special district, please visit the Official List of Special Districts Online.

For more information about the incorporation or annexation of a Community Development District, see:

Contact Someone Who Can Answer Questions About Making Changes to Special Districts

Reviewing and Revising Rules - The Regulatory Plan

Chapter 120, Florida Statutes - Administrative Procedure Act, requires the following types of special districts ("applicable special districts") with adopted rules to submit a Regulatory Plan: 

Regulatory Plan

By October 1 of each year, applicable special districts must prepare a regulatory plan listing each law enacted during the previous 12 months that modifies the duties or authority of the agency. The regulatory plan must indicate:

  1. Whether the applicable special district must adopt rules to implement the law.
  2. If rulemaking is necessary to implement the law, the applicable special district must indicate:
    1. Whether a notice of rulemaking has been published (if so, the date the notice was published in the Florida Administrative Register).
    2. The date by which the applicable special district plans to publish the notice of proposed rulemaking.
    3. If rulemaking is unnecessary to implement the law, a concise written explanation of the reasons why the law may be implemented without rulemaking.

The regulatory plan must also identify any other law that the applicable special district plans to implement by rulemaking before the following July 1st (except emergency rulemaking). Section 120.74(1)(b), Florida Statutes, requires the plan to "state whether the rulemaking is intended to simplify, clarify, increase efficiency, improve coordination with other agencies, reduce regulatory costs, or delete obsolete, unnecessary, or redundant rules."

The regulatory plan must include any updates to the prior year's regulatory plan (see section 120.74(1)(c), Florida Statutes).

The regulatory plan must be certified by the applicable special district head and the individual acting as the principal legal advisor (see section 120.74(1)(d), Florida Statutes).

The regulatory plan must be published by October 1 of each year on the applicable special district's website or another state website established for the publication of administrative law records. Additionally, by October 1, the applicable special district must electronically deliver to the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee a copy of the certification required by section 120.74(1)(d), Florida Statutes.

An applicable special district must publish a notice of rule development by November 1 for each law identified in the applicable special district's regulatory plan. The notice of proposed rulemaking must be published by April 1st of the following year (this deadline may be extended if the applicable special district publishes a notice of extension explaining the reasons for the delay in rulemaking in the Florida Administrative Register). See section 120.74(5)-(6), Florida Statutes for additional requirements.

The regulatory plan must be supplemented within 30 days after a bill becomes law "if the law is enacted before the next regular session of the Legislature and the law substantively modifies the agency's specifically delegated legal duties, unless the law affects all or most state agencies as identified by letter to the committee from the Governor or the Attorney General" (see section 120.74(7), Florida Statutes).

Contact Someone Who Can Answer Questions About the Regulatory Plan

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