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Special Sea Level Rise Tax Districts

Extending the Useful Life of SLR Impacted Regions May Rely On Historical Precedent


Certain areas are eventually going to be officially classified by local governments as vulnerable to sea level rise. Near-term funding solutions  must be identified.


For those neighborhoods, special considerations will require expensive adaptation measures. Such initiatives, designed to extend the habitable life of streets and adjoining properties, will require large infrastructure investments.


If the political will to save specified but endangered lands exists, the obvious question is, “Who will pay?” Reluctant to put more money into areas which ultimately give way to the sea, funding from Washington and state capitols most certainly will be hard to realize.


Cooperation between those using at-risk properties and their local city halls may result in the need to create special tax districts or zones. The only alternative may be a premature retreat from land which would otherwise be usable for an extended period of years with the right infrastructure improvements.


Take, for example, beach areas which thrive on tourism. It is predictable that hotel and motel owners, restaurants and shops will do all they can to extend the life of their properties and local transportation systems. They just have to find the millions of dollars to get the job done.


Without sympathy from state legislatures, what to do? History provides a potential funding solution.


Special tax districts are not new, as they date back to the time of Benjamin Franklin, reports In 1736, residents paid special fees to enjoy fire protection services. In Florida, the use of such districts dates back approximately 190 years, with the creation of the Road, Highway and Ferry Act of 1822, which was funded by labor. It’s mission: Maintain early public roads.


Following statehood, the Florida Legislature created a special district financed by landowners based upon “benefits derived,” according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO). “By the 1920’s, the population had increased substantially in response to Florida’s land boom. Many special districts were created to finance large engineering projects,” recalls the FDEO.


Special districts in the Sunshine State have even focused on beach erosion efforts.


As Florida’s population grew, so did the use of special taxing districts. Now that Florida begins to slowly shrink, history’s precedents provide valuable opportunities to extend the viability of threatened areas.


The State of Florida characterizes one of the main functions of a special district: “…to finance, construct, operate and maintain capital infrastructure, facilities and services.” Governing boards concentrating on “specific community needs and issues” particular to the district run these limited governmental entities.


According to the FDEO, “Special districts can provide local governmental services - often in response to citizen demand - that a municipality or county is unable or unwilling to provide.” It adds, “Special districts generate money to pay for projected growth without putting an excessive burden on other taxpayers and governments, since only those who benefit from the special district's services are required to pay.”


Most importantly, such special districts “…protect property values by assuring property owners that their roads, water and sewer lines, and other essential facilities and services will continue to be maintained.”


By requiring local tax payments, using tax-exempt bonds and utilizing tax-free purchases, special sea level rise districts may be the key to economic viability in threatened areas.


This proven financial solution could allow for more storm sewer improvements, construction and other key strategies to deal with rising oceans such as elevating roads and utilities at a time when governmental funding is more limited, and politically complicated, than ever.


Posted 5.12.14


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