DeSantis’ push to end Disney self-government would impact Bradford County

Bradford County has some of the same government perks that Walt Disney World receives

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants the state Legislature to revoke a provision that gives Walt Disney World autonomy in governing areas near its theme parks.

STARKE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants the state Legislature to revoke a provision that gives Walt Disney World autonomy in governing areas near its theme parks.

But doing away with that special exemption would also impact five other districts in the state, including a portion of Bradford County.

Bradford County has some of the same government perks that Disney World receives. The county has a special development authority in place since the 1960s that allows it to bring in business with special perks. But if the governor’s proposal passes, the board offering those incentives would be eliminated.

News4JAX spoke with people who say dissolving the Bradford County Development Authority would not be good for the area. The development authority meets in downtown Starke, which U.S. 301 passes through.

Bradford County resident Dimple Overstreet said the authority is doing positive things.

“It brings in new things, new items to the community, anything that reaches out and gives a vision to the community, as well,” Overstreet said.

Overstreet points to a number of projects that are helping bring more people and activity into the area.

News4JAX contacted members of the development authority and tried reaching out to all of the Bradford County commissioners, wanting to ask them what they believe the impact would be if the governor’s plan passes. Those we reached did not want to comment, and others have not returned our calls.

Looking at the authority’s website, it points out why the area is good for businesses and gives pitches as to why companies should locate to Bradford County -- including a number of tax advantages on business property and goods. It said Bradford County’s property tax is one of the lowest in the state and country. And there are electrical incentives from Florida Power & Light.

For Overstreet and others, the fact that the governor’s plan would interrupt this is something that is just not sitting well.

“I think the governor needs to sit back and look at a lot of things,” Overstreet said.

DeSantis on Tuesday asked the Florida Legislature to repeal the law allowing Disney World to operate a private government over its properties in the state.

DeSantis has battled with Disney over the company’s opposition to the new law barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

As lawmakers returned to the Florida Capitol for a special legislative session on congressional redistricting, the governor issued a proclamation that allows the GOP-controlled statehouse to take up bills eliminating Disney’s self-governing district. Republicans quickly filed proposals to do so.

“I am announcing today that we are expanding the call of what they are going to be considering this week. And so, yes they will be considering the congressional map, but they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968, and that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District,” DeSantis said at a news conference, referencing the company’s governing district without mentioning Disney by name. He did not elaborate.

Disney representatives did not return an emailed request for comment on Tuesday. It was not immediately clear how the elimination of the district would affect the company or neighboring governments.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District is a private government controlled by Disney World and set up by the state Legislature in 1967 that allows it to provide government services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure.

The creation of the district, and the control it gave Disney over 27,000 acres in Florida, was a crucial element in the company’s plans to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Company officials said they needed autonomy to plan a futuristic city along with the theme park. The city never materialized, however; instead, it morphed into the EPCOT theme park.

On Wednesday, the Florida Senate voted to eliminate Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, and the state House of Representatives is expected to take up the measure on Thursday.

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.