The Eastpoint Water and Sewer District won’t be dissolving this summer after all.
By a unanimous vote last month in the Florida House, 113-0, and in the Senate, 34-0, the Florida Legislature approved HB 13B, sponsored by State Rep. Jason Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe). Both he and State Sen. Corey Simon (R-Tallahassee) had agreed to move forward on the measure at last month’s delegation hearing.
The bill, expected to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, reverses what could have been the dissolution of the district on June 1, and the handing of its authority over to the county commission, which was a possibility that neither the public nor elected officials wanted to see happen.
The bill reaffirms and continues the district’s authority to raise revenue and pay outstanding bonds and other obligations without interruption. It also makes several changes to what was seen as outdated language, dating back to the late 1960s.
It removes the separate positions of board secretary and treasurer and creates a new position of board secretary-treasurer, a role now held by Mike Thornburg.
Any two board members are required to sign checks, and it removes the authorization that the district could provide fire or garbage collection services, which it has never done since its creation.
The district no longer has oversight authorization of discharge into waters in and outside of it, once again a power it has not legally exercised and which is primarily in the hands of the Northwest Florida Water Management District and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The new district also limits service extensions outside the district boundaries to properties currently receiving services. “We can’t expand boundaries without taking it back to the legislature,” said Ricky Jones, the district’s vice chairman. “It prevents any shortchanging of the process.”
The bill also updates the outdated threshold requirement of a mere $1,000 that triggers the need to advertise for bids. It has now been raised to $35,000.
The possible dissolution of the district came as a result of a bill passed in the 2022 legislative session primarily intended to put an end to the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which for more than four decades had enabled Disney World to govern its land use, fire protection and various other infrastructure. That bill was widely seen as being retaliation by Gov. Ron DeSantis for Disney’s opposition to the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill since it restricted “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In going after all special districts created before Nov. 1968, when the state constitution was ratified, the bill last year meant the Eastpoint district, first chartered by the state in 1967, would also dissolve, along with four other special districts.
The legislature has since re-created the Reedy Creek district so as to enable the governor to replace the district’s existing board – mostly people with ties to Disney – with a five-member body that he selects.