The left has suddenly abandoned its hatred of big business and defense of the little guy. Now they support big pharma, they support Disney, and they want companies running the show. I never thought that I would see the day. So Florida just voted to eliminate Disney’s government.
Now that Florida is removing Disney’s right to be its own government, what does that mean? Let’s start by explaining what the Reedy Creek Improvement District is, and what it does.
On May 12, 1967 then Governor of Florida Claude Kirk signed a bill into law establishing the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). On the same date, he signed the incorporation acts for two incorporated cities within the district: Bay Lake and Reedy Creek. (The City of Reedy Creek was renamed to the City of Lake Buena Vista around 1970.) Before that time, nearly all of the area was undeveloped swamp land. Of the 25,000 acres of land within the RCID, Disney owns more 68% of it, RCID owns 29% of it, the State of Florida owns 2% of it, and a small plot of 110 acres belongs to “others.” Reading below, you will see that much of this 110 acres belongs to the board of directors, so they can legally serve on the board.
RCID provides to the area what local governments normally provide: fire protection, street lighting, garbage collection, water and sewer services, permitting, tax collection, and more. The District can issue bonds, and more importantly for Disney, controls all building codes and rules. Since RCID is located in two counties (Orange and Osceola), the ability to make its own rules concerning flood control, building permits, and environmental impact has meant that Disney has been out of reach of any local government regulation for over 50 years.
With more than 500 current employees who handle things like a laboratory for testing water and environmental concerns, an electric power-generating facility, a water treatment facility, recycling center, and a fire department, RCID provides all of the services that a small city does.
Governing Board and Voting
RCID receives all its income from taxes and fees imposed within its boundaries. This is a huge boon for Disney, because they are essentially paying taxes to themselves. RCID has an annual budget of $119 million, with more than $90 million of that being paid by Disney. Considering the value of all of those resorts and theme parks, $96 million in taxes and fees is a bargain.
A board of five supervisors elected by the landowners conducts the business of the district at monthly board meetings. The supervisors must also be landowners. Since Disney owns the land in the district, Disney sells five-acre blocks of undeveloped land to the supervisors. Since, you guessed it, Disney owns virtually all of the land within RCID, Disney decides who is on the board. On completion of their terms, these individuals (who are also employees of Disney) sell their land back to the company. Votes are strictly proportional to the acreage owned, so the company basically governs its own property. The law permits supervisors to vote on contracts between the district and their own companies. The board doesn’t change hands very often. For example, the President of the Board of Directors has only been held by five men since its inception in 1967: Larry Hames (the current President), Donald Greer (who is still on the board), Tom Moses, Tom DeWolf, and Joe Potter.
Losing the RCID
The impact of losing the RCID on Disney will be large. The company will have to pay taxes, water and sewage fees, and more importantly will lose the ability to set its own building codes and regulations. There are those who claim that Disney might simply leave the state. That would be ridiculous. The cost for Disney to replace just the road network that it has built around the parks is over $200 million. There is land development, flood control, infrastructure, as well as the cost of replacing four major theme parks, another six minor theme parks, a hospital, power plant, water and sewage plant, and all 31 Disney owned resort hotels. This would also require the moving of the animals located within the zoo at Animal Kingdom, meaning that wherever the company went would have to have similar climate. It would all need to be near a major airport, and a large source of employees. Even if all of that were possible, Disney would then have to fund and construct the project, which would take a decade and cost billions of dollars. The total assessed value of the property within RCID is $13.7 billion. Moving that just isn’t happening.
So how will this affect Disney and the surrounding area then? Let me start by explaining something I know a lot about: the fire department.
Reedy Creek Fire Department has 138 people staffing four fire stations. (Another 86 personnel provide admin and first aid within the parks, but that service would likely remain a Disney provided resource as it does in other area parks like Universal Studios and Sea World.) They are all union employees who are very well paid. People will leave years long careers at other departments to work for Reedy Creek, mostly due to light call loads and high pay. The RCFD pensions are paid for by the Florida taxpayer, and since pay is so high at RCFD, the pensions are high as well.
Thanks to the good condition of the buildings, Reedy Creek doesn’t run many fires, and the ones they do get are generally wildland fires. More than 97% of the calls that they get are EMS calls. The operating budget for this department is over $32 million a year. In contrast, the Kissimmee Fire Department (located a few miles away) is of similar size and call load, has a budget of $17.1 million a year.
Starting pay for a firefighter paramedic at Reedy Creek is nearly $60,000 a year. If the RCID is disbanded, firefighters may get picked up by Orange County Fire Rescue, where their starting pay is considerably less at $52,700.
They are screaming that the fire department will be eliminated. Scare people into thinking that they will be unsafe. If the firefighters want to continue working there, they are going to have to take a large pay cut. Firefighters with Reedy Creek claim that they aren’t Disney employees, but that is smoke and mirrors. As you have seen on this page, this is a distinction that exists only on paper.
The democrats are pulling out all of the stops. The local news is filled with stories of tax increases, lost jobs, and other disasters. They are really trying to whip up the local public into thinking the sky is falling. None of that will happen. It’s all election year scare politics.
Reedy Creek Facts from the Office of Program Policy Analysis, 2004
Reedy Creek Budget