Special District Accountability Program:
Special District Accountability and Oversight
Special District Accountability - The Uniform Special District Accountability Act
Special districts provide and maintain vital infrastructure and services throughout the state and have a major impact on all citizens and the state's economy.
To secure the public trust, Chapter 189, Florida Statutes, Uniform Special District Accountability Act) serves as the one central location for all legislation governing special districts and ensures that special districts and their governing boards are held accountable to:
- State government
- The counties and / or municipalities in which they operate
- The citizens they serve
To accomplish a high level of accountability, the Act requires special districts to comply with many of the same accountability standards as those of counties and municipalities and state government. Examples of these standards include:
- Sending an annual financial report to the Department of Financial Services disclosing the district's revenues, expenditures, and long-term debt
- Sending an annual financial audit, performed by an independent Certified Public Accountant, to the Florida Audit General for review (most but not all special districts)
- Sending information to the State Board of Administration concerning advance notice of bond sales and new bond issues
- Certifying to the state compliance with Truth-in-Millage requirements (if establishing a property tax)
- Complying with ethics laws, including financial disclosures by governing board members and certain employees
- Conducting district business within the Government-in-the-Sunshine laws, including specific public meeting requirements
In addition, the Act:
- Provides for the definition, creation, and operation of special districts
- Makes technical assistance available to each special district to help ensure accountability
- When necessary, provides for enforcement of accountability
- Improves communication and coordination between state agencies with respect to required special district reporting and state monitoring
- Improves communication and coordination between special districts and other local entities with respect to ad valorem taxation, non-ad valorem assessment collection, special district elections, and local government comprehensive planning
- Eliminates duplication
- Streamlines special district reporting
- Streamlines the collection and distribution of uniform special district information
- Requires the Department of Economic Opportunity, through its Special District Accountability Program, to administer the Act
The Oversight of Special Districts
Certain state agencies are responsible for monitoring special districts and collecting, reviewing, interpreting, and summarizing financial information for the public, the Legislature and other officials. Therefore, each special district must submit the following reports and filings to various state and local agencies, as applicable:
- The Annual Financial Report
- The Annual Financial Audit Report
- Bond financing related reports
- Retirement system reports
- Public facilities reports
- Designation of registered office and agent
- Regular Public Meeting Schedule
- Charters (creation document), as amended
- Boundary maps, as amended
What May Happen When Special Districts Fail to Comply with Certain Requirements
Since special districts are separate units of local government - not state or local programs overseen by another level of government - no single state agency or person has the authority to completely oversee special districts. The primary entity responsible for overseeing a special district is the special district's own governing board. Each governing board member is responsible for ensuring that the special district complies with all applicable laws and conducts its business as authorized by its charter and adopted budget.
Depending on the issue, when special districts fail to comply with a requirement, state and local agencies - as well as citizens - can take action. For example:
- Citizens can file ethics complaints with the Commission on Ethics.
- The appropriate oversight entity, depending on how the special district was created, may conduct a general oversight review process (applies to most, but not all, special districts).
- The Governor may suspend or remove a special district governing body member under certain circumstances.
- The entity that created the special district can amend, merge, or dissolve the special district.
- The state attorney for the area can investigate and prosecute district officials who violate Government-in-the-Sunshine laws.
- The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee can send state auditors to a district if something warrants such action.
- The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee and / or the Department of Management Services can direct the Department of Economic Opportunity to file a petition in Leon County circuit court to compel compliance when special districts fail to file certain financial reports with the state.
- The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, at the direction of the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, may convene a public hearing on the issue of noncompliance concerning any special district created by special act that fails to file certain financial information with the state.
- The chair of a county or municipality may convene a public hearing on the issue of noncompliance concerning any special district it created that fails to file certain financial information with the state.
- The Department of Economic Opportunity can declare special districts inactive for dissolution under certain circumstances.
- Concerning dependent special districts - depending on how they are structured - counties and municipalities can withhold funds, veto its budget, and / or remove and replace governing body members.