Florida Special District Handbook Online:
The Special District Accountability Program
The Special District Accountability Program (the "Program") operates within the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and administers the general law for all special districts - Chapter 189, Florida Statutes - Uniform Special District Accountability Act (the “Act”).
The Program is a component of Florida's Local Government Financial Reporting System, which is a network of state and local agencies working together to collect financial and other information from all governmental entities, including special districts, to help hold them accountable. The Florida Legislature, state agencies, and local government officials depend on information produced by this system to monitor special districts and to make informed policy decisions.
The following programmatic responsibilities help to make special districts more accountable and transparent to citizens and state and local government.
Maintaining The Official List of Special Districts Online
The Program continuously collects, classifies, updates, organizes and maintains uniform information about each of Florida's special districts and makes it available through the Official List of Special Districts Online. Users visiting this website can access various data and statistics about Florida's special districts and can create customized reports by selecting variables of interest.
The primary users of this online database - the Florida Legislature and more than 685 state and local agencies - need information about special districts to coordinate activities, collect and compile financial and other information, and monitor special districts for accountability purposes.
As an example, the Florida Department of Financial Services uses the list to verify that all active special districts disclose their annual revenues, expenditures, and debt by filing the Annual Financial Report.
Electronically Publishing Special District Noncompliance Status Reports | Helping Counties, Municipalities, and State Agencies collect Delinquent Reports or Information from Special Districts | Helping special districts comply with reporting requirements
The following state agencies prepare special district noncompliance status reports and send them to the Program when special districts fail to comply with statutory reporting requirements to that agency:
- The Florida Department of Management Services - Special districts that failed to comply with the provisions in section 112.63, Florida Statutes - Actuarial reports and statements of actuarial impact; review (see Retirement Plans and Reporting Requirements).
- The Florida Department of Financial Services - Special districts that failed to file the Annual Financial Report.
- The Florida Auditor General - special districts that failed to file the Annual Financial Audit Report.
- The State Board of Administration of Florida, Division of Bond Finance:
- Special districts that failed to file an advance notice a bond sale.
- Special districts that failed to file the Bond Information Form / Bond Disclosure Form and the Final Official Statement, if prepared, within 120 days of the delivery of the bond issue.
- The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee (Florida House and Florida Senate):
- Special districts that failed to file an Annual Financial Report after the Program provided technical assistance.
- Special districts that failed to file an Annual Financial Audit Report after the Program provided technical assistance.
- Special districts that failed to correct audit findings reported in three successive audit reports and did not sufficiently respond to or satisfy the Committee.
When the Program receives these noncompliance reports, the Program takes the following action:
- The Program makes these reports available to the public by publishing them on its website (see Special District Noncompliance Status Reports).
- Concerning the other reports, the Program attempts to help each special district come into compliance by providing a detailed technical assistance / warning letter to help the special district come into compliance and avoid the noncompliance in the future (see Accountability Overview - Technical Assistance). The Program may also receive noncompliance reports from any county or municipality. If so, the Program provides technical assistance to those special districts as well.
Financial Reporting Enforcement
If the special district does not come into compliance with certain requirements to a state agency after the Program provides the detailed technical assistance / warning letter described above, the Program may initiate legal enforcement through the circuit court or declare a special district inactive for dissolution. For detailed information, see Consequences of Failure to Comply with Required Reporting and Dissolving Dependent and Independent Special Districts Through a Declaration of Inactive Status.
Publishing and Updating the "Florida Special District Handbook"
To help ensure that special districts comply with the requirements of the Act - and are thereby held accountable to citizens and state and local government - the Program publishes and updates the Florida Special District Handbook Online. At a minimum, this handbook must cover definitions of special districts and status distinctions, the current statutory provisions for special district creation, implementation, modification, dissolution, and operating procedures, and the reporting requirements applicable to all types of special districts.
The Program is also required to post a schedule on its website to help certain special districts determine when its public facilities report and updates to that report are due to the local general-purpose governments in which the special district has territory. This schedule (see The Public Facilities Report) is based the evaluation and appraisal notification schedule prepared by the Department of Economic Opportunity, Division of Community Planning.
Coordinating and Communicating Special District Information Among State Agencies
Since the Program continuously collects, classifies, and maintains constantly changing information about Florida's special districts, the Program is often the first to find out about changes that other state agencies need to know about, sometimes very quickly. As such, the Program serves as a central location for making sure this information is timely distributed to the appropriate people at various state agencies.
Providing technical advisory assistance to special districts regarding the requirements of Chapter 189, Florida Statutes
The Program answers questions and provides referrals (see Special District Resources and Contacts) when special district staff and governing body members have questions about the requirements of Chapter 189, Florida Statutes. The program may also provide, contract for, or assist in conducting education programs for all newly elected or appointed members of special district governing bodies. These programs include, but are not limited to, courses on the code of ethics for public officers and employees, public meetings and public records requirements, public finance, and parliamentary procedure.
The program may enter into a contract by a qualified third-party vendor to provide technical advisory assistance to special districts concerning Chapter 189, Florida Statutes.
Collecting a fee to fund the Program - The Annual Special District Fee
The Program does not receive general revenue funding. Instead, the Program is required to establish a fee schedule by rule to collect an annual fee from each special district to cover the costs of administering the Program (see Rule Chapter 73C-24, Florida Administrative Code - Special District Accountability Program).
Around each October 1, the Program sends an invoice to all special districts. To avoid late fees, each special district must comply with its specific fee requirement by the due date on the invoice (approximately 60 days after the invoice date). Certain special districts with annual revenues less than $3,000 can certify eligibility for a zero fee. All special districts must comply with this requirement each year.
The fee schedule corresponds with the fiscal year that most special districts must use (October 1 through September 30). Around October 1 each year, the Program mails the "Special District Fee Invoice and Update Form" to each special district. To keep the Official List of Special Districts Online up-to-date, this form also serves as an update form. Each special district must review and, if necessary, update the information about the special district on the form and return it to the Program along with the annual fee by the due date.
The Annual Fee
For most special districts, the fee is $175 a year and is due within 60 days.
Prorated First Year Fee for Newly Created Special Districts
Newly created special districts pay a prorated fee depending upon the quarter in which it was created:
- First Quarter (October 1 through December 31) - $150
- Second Quarter (January 1 through March 31) - $125
- Third Quarter (April 1 through June 30) - $100
- Fourth Quarter (July 1 through September 30) - $75
Zero Annual Fee
Special districts meeting all three of the following conditions are not required to pay an annual fee if the registered agent certifies that all of the following statements are true:
- The special district and its Certified Public Accountant determined the special district is not a component unit of a local general-purpose government.
- The special district is in compliance with the reporting requirements of the Florida Department of Financial Services (see the Annual Financial Report).
- Through the Annual Financial Report, the special district reported $3,000 or less in annual revenues for the most recent fiscal year in which complete annual data is available. A newly created special district that has not yet filed an Annual Financial Report must attach an income statement verifying $3,000 or less in revenues for the current fiscal year.
Upon verification, the Program will approve the zero fee. This is an annual process for all special districts wishing to qualify for the zero fee.
Failure to Comply with the Annual Special District Fee Requirement
Any special district not complying with the fee requirements by the due date will be subject to fines up to $50 (two late notices with a $25 late fee on each notice).
Any special district not paying the fee and fine will be reported to a debt collection agency. This will result in additional fees and a report of collection activities to the credit bureaus.
Contact Someone Who Can Answer Questions About the Special District Accountability Program