Florida bill could end creation of new safe neighborhood improvement districts

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(The Center Square) — Changes to safe neighborhood improvement districts and other special districts in the Sunshine State could be coming if a new bill in the Florida Legislature is enacted.

Senate Bill 1058, sponsored by state Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, would prohibit the creation of new safe neighborhood improvement districts after a specific date, while additional transparency measures would be introduced to existing districts and criteria to declare a special district inactive would also be added.

A “safe neighborhood improvement district” is defined in Florida law as a district that is located in an area that has more than 75% of its land used for residential purposes, or in an area that has more than 75% of its land used for commercial, office, business, or industrial purposes.

These improvement districts also contain plans to reduce crime through community environmental design, defensible space techniques and community policing innovations.

In the bill’s text, it states that specific Florida statutes would be amended to prohibit the creation of a new safe neighborhood after July 1, while adding a requirement for the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to conduct performance reviews of safe neighborhood improvement districts annually.

Elected members of governing bodies of independent special districts would also be subject to term limits of no more than 12 years unless shorter term limits exist in the district’s charter. The bill also adds criteria to declare a district inactive and subject to dissolution.

According to the bill, to dissolve a district, independent special districts with ad valorem taxing powers created before January 1, 2018, must conduct a referendum in conjunction with a general election held on November 3, 2026.

If most voters disapprove of continuing the independent special district, the governing body must adopt a dissolution plan within 90 days of the referendum that includes provisions for liquidating assets, satisfying all obligations and debts and ensuring that public services provided by the district are continued.

Voters can also opt to continue a special district by approving its continuation via referendum.

A special district could be declared inactive if the governing body provides documentation that it has unanimously adopted a resolution declaring the special district inactive, if it has not taken any action or has not had a sufficient number of governing members for longer than two years, or fails to file any required reports.

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