Apr 20, 2022

What Dissolving Reedy Creek Could Mean for Taxpayers

Here’s what dissolving Disney’s Reedy Creek could mean for taxpayers 4/20/22 Transcript
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Here’s what dissolving Disney’s Reedy Creek could mean for taxpayers. Read the transcript here.



Speaker 1: (00:01)
This is WFTV Tonight.

Martha Sugalski: (00:04)
A decision that created the Central Florida we know today is now under attack. Good evening. I’m Martha Sugalski.

Greg Warmoth: (00:11)
And I’m Greg Warmoth. Governor DeSantis is going after Disney’s self governing abilities in Orange and Osceola Counties. He’s using this week’s special legislative session on redistricting to now call for an end to the Reedy Creek Improvement District that Disney executives control.

Governor Ron DeSantis: (00:28)
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.

Greg Warmoth: (00:43)
So let’s start tonight at 11:00 with what Reedy Creek is. It is an area in Orange and Osceola Counties carved out by state law 50 years ago. It runs just like any city or town. It has a police department, fire department, sewer service, and commissioners. But it’s all Disney property and Disney controls everything about it, all decisions. The district lets Disney fast track those decisions and projects on their own land and create the atmosphere we all now associate with Disney World.

Martha Sugalski: (01:13)
Republican state Senator Randy Fine of Brevard County filing the bill to dissolve Reedy Creek, and merge the district into the rest of the two counties. In a tweet today he said, “Disney is a guest in Florida. Today, we remind them. Governor DeSantis just expanded the Special Session so I could file HB3C which eliminates Reedy Creek Improvement District, a 50-year-old special statute that makes Disney exempt from laws faced by regular Floridians.” All right, we want to go to Nick Papantonis right now.

Greg Warmoth: (01:43)
He is live outside of Disney World tonight to show us how this would impact the company, its employees, and taxpayers in those counties.

Nick Papantonis: (01:52)
If Reedy Creek goes away, local and state lawmakers would have until next June to figure out how to merge the operations here with the ones in Orlando and Kissimmee. It’s a big undertaking. Some people say too big, and it’s unprecedented.

Nick Papantonis: (02:09)
This is supposed to be a year of celebration for Disney World. A look back at the half century of magic that built Central Florida. Six months into it, it isn’t the theme parks taking center stage, but the infrastructure behind it.

Speaker 6: (02:22)
Maybe it made sense at the time, when that was Walt’s vision, but we’re in a different place.

Nick Papantonis: (02:29)
A proposal from state Republicans angry about the company’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill, critics dubbed the Don’t Say Gay bill, would cancel Disney’s self-governing abilities. Introducing the same kind of county oversight enjoyed by most other companies, and fury from Disney supporters who say Florida is going to war with its largest employer over free speech.

Speaker 7: (02:50)
This is an embarrassing moment for us as a legislative body.

Speaker 8: (02:54)
I don’t think anyone would’ve had that on their bingo card.

Nick Papantonis: (02:56)
If this change passes, experts say part of Disney World’s operations would merge with Orange and Osceola Counties by June 1st, 2023, such as the fire department, public works, and the planning department. Disney would have to get outside permission to make changes or upgrades to its facilities. And it would rely on state and local authorities to pave many of its roads. Special Districts’ lobbyist, David Ramba, says these changes would not be as awful as some people are making them out to be. But Disney World’s operations would be tied up in more red tape.

David E. Ramba: (03:33)
When they want a big project done, it’s a lot simpler for them to permit it themselves.

Nick Papantonis: (03:33)
Ramba says, “Taxpayers would also see changes.” Orange and Osceola Counties would collect Disney’s tax revenue, instead of the company itself, which could be a boost. Workers will merge into the county’s payroll, but the counties will assume all of the expenses as well. Documents showing the Reedy Creek District often operates at a loss, and the district has a lot of debt.

Speaker 10: (03:55)
I think we agree it’s somewhere between $970 million and $1.02 billion.

Nick Papantonis: (03:59)
There will also be conflicts. In 2019, taxpayers were on the hook for improvements to Kirkman Road that would benefit Universal’s upcoming Epic Universe park. Even though many called the project a waste.

Speaker 11: (04:12)
$125 million can go a lot further.

Nick Papantonis: (04:16)
Ramba says, “It’s not 1967 anymore.” And while it would be an annoyance, all around Disney and taxpayers will probably be just fine.

David E. Ramba: (04:25)
I think those negotiations will begin to occur once this gets done in a special session.

Greg Warmoth: (04:32)
Of course we will see, Nick. It is completely possible that the state goes through with this and then we still keep the status quo, right?

Nick Papantonis: (04:41)
Yeah, there is a couple different options on the table right now. They could vote for this, this week, and then reverse course in January after election season is over. So that would maintain Reedy Creek. They could go through with this and then Orange and Osceola Counties instead give Disney its special protections, just at the local level. And the third option is Disney sues and wins in court. Ramba says it’s a likely possibility because state law requires that a district get dissolved in the same way it was created. And just to keep history short, Disney’s Reedy Creek District was not created during a special session. Live in Orange County, Nick Papantonis, WFTV Tonight.

Greg Warmoth: (05:22)
And some are saying this all started because of Disney’s lack of support for, again, Ron DeSantis’s measures regarding what critics call the Don’t Say Gay bill. And here’s a comment made tonight by Orange County Mayor, Jerry Demings. Tonight, we got this comment from him and it says, “Orange County Government is monitoring the special session in Tallahassee, particularly when it comes to unfunded cost shifts to local governments. We will await any final legislative actions before offering further comments.”

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