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The 2017 Florida Statutes

Title XIII
PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT
Chapter 189
UNIFORM SPECIAL DISTRICT ACCOUNTABILITY ACT
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F.S. 189.074
189.074 Voluntary merger of independent special districts.Two or more contiguous independent special districts created by special act which have similar functions and elected governing bodies may elect to merge into a single independent district through the act of merging the component independent special districts.
(1) INITIATION.Merger proceedings may commence by:
(a) A joint resolution of the governing bodies of each independent special district which endorses a proposed joint merger plan; or
(b) A qualified elector initiative.
(2) JOINT MERGER PLAN BY RESOLUTION.The governing bodies of two or more contiguous independent special districts may, by joint resolution, endorse a proposed joint merger plan to commence proceedings to merge the districts pursuant to this section.
(a) The proposed joint merger plan must specify:
1. The name of each component independent special district to be merged;
2. The name of the proposed merged independent district;
3. The rights, duties, and obligations of the proposed merged independent district;
4. The territorial boundaries of the proposed merged independent district;
5. The governmental organization of the proposed merged independent district insofar as it concerns elected and appointed officials and public employees, along with a transitional plan and schedule for elections and appointments of officials;
6. A fiscal estimate of the potential cost or savings as a result of the merger;
7. Each component independent special district’s assets, including, but not limited to, real and personal property, and the current value thereof;
8. Each component independent special district’s liabilities and indebtedness, bonded and otherwise, and the current value thereof;
9. Terms for the assumption and disposition of existing assets, liabilities, and indebtedness of each component independent special district jointly, separately, or in defined proportions;
10. Terms for the common administration and uniform enforcement of existing laws within the proposed merged independent district;
11. The times and places for public hearings on the proposed joint merger plan;
12. The times and places for a referendum in each component independent special district on the proposed joint merger plan, along with the referendum language to be presented for approval; and
13. The effective date of the proposed merger.
(b) The resolution endorsing the proposed joint merger plan must be approved by a majority vote of the governing bodies of each component independent special district and adopted at least 60 business days before any general or special election on the proposed joint merger plan.
(c) Within 5 business days after the governing bodies approve the resolution endorsing the proposed joint merger plan, the governing bodies must:
1. Cause a copy of the proposed joint merger plan, along with a descriptive summary of the plan, to be displayed and be readily accessible to the public for inspection in at least three public places within the territorial limits of each component independent special district, unless a component independent special district has fewer than three public places, in which case the plan must be accessible for inspection in all public places within the component independent special district;
2. If applicable, cause the proposed joint merger plan, along with a descriptive summary of the plan and a reference to the public places within each component independent special district where a copy of the merger plan may be examined, to be displayed on a website maintained by each district or on a website maintained by the county or municipality in which the districts are located; and
3. Arrange for a descriptive summary of the proposed joint merger plan, and a reference to the public places within the district where a copy may be examined, to be published in a newspaper of general circulation within the component independent special districts at least once each week for 4 successive weeks.
(d) The governing body of each component independent special district shall set a time and place for one or more public hearings on the proposed joint merger plan. Each public hearing shall be held on a weekday at least 7 business days after the day the first advertisement is published on the proposed joint merger plan. The hearing or hearings may be held jointly or separately by the governing bodies of the component independent special districts. Any interested person residing in the respective district shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard on any aspect of the proposed merger at the public hearing.
1. Notice of the public hearing addressing the resolution for the proposed joint merger plan must be published pursuant to the notice requirements in s. 189.015 and must provide a descriptive summary of the proposed joint merger plan and a reference to the public places within the component independent special districts where a copy of the plan may be examined.
2. After the final public hearing, the governing bodies of each component independent special district may amend the proposed joint merger plan if the amended version complies with the notice and public hearing requirements provided in this section. Thereafter, the governing bodies may approve a final version of the joint merger plan or decline to proceed further with the merger. Approval by the governing bodies of the final version of the joint merger plan must occur within 60 business days after the final hearing.
(e) After the final public hearing, the governing bodies shall notify the supervisors of elections of the applicable counties in which district lands are located of the adoption of the resolution by each governing body. The supervisors of elections shall schedule a separate referendum for each component independent special district. The referenda may be held in each district on the same day, or on different days, but no more than 20 days apart.
1. Notice of a referendum on the merger of independent special districts must be provided pursuant to the notice requirements in s. 100.342. At a minimum, the notice must include:
a. A brief summary of the resolution and joint merger plan;
b. A statement as to where a copy of the resolution and joint merger plan may be examined;
c. The names of the component independent special districts to be merged and a description of their territory;
d. The times and places at which the referendum will be held; and
e. Such other matters as may be necessary to call, provide for, and give notice of the referendum and to provide for the conduct thereof and the canvass of the returns.
2. The referenda must be held in accordance with the Florida Election Code and may be held pursuant to ss. 101.6101-101.6107. All costs associated with the referenda shall be borne by the respective component independent special district.
3. The ballot question in such referendum placed before the qualified electors of each component independent special district to be merged must be in substantially the following form:

“Shall   (name of component independent special district)   and   (name of component independent special district or districts)   be merged into   (name of newly merged independent district)  ?

 YES

 NO”

4. If the component independent special districts proposing to merge have disparate millage rates, the ballot question in the referendum placed before the qualified electors of each component independent special district must be in substantially the following form:

“Shall   (name of component independent special district)   and   (name of component independent special district or districts)   be merged into   (name of newly merged independent district)   if the voter-approved maximum millage rate within each independent special district will not increase absent a subsequent referendum?

 YES

 NO”

5. In any referendum held pursuant to this section, the ballots shall be counted, returns made and canvassed, and results certified in the same manner as other elections or referenda for the component independent special districts.
6. The merger may not take effect unless a majority of the votes cast in each component independent special district are in favor of the merger. If one of the component districts does not obtain a majority vote, the referendum fails, and merger does not take effect.
7. If the merger is approved by a majority of the votes cast in each component independent special district, the merged independent district is created. Upon approval, the merged independent district shall notify the Special District Accountability Program pursuant to s. 189.016(2) and the local general-purpose governments in which any part of the component independent special districts is situated pursuant to s. 189.016(7).
8. If the referendum fails, the merger process under this subsection may not be initiated for the same purpose within 2 years after the date of the referendum.
(f) Component independent special districts merged pursuant to a joint merger plan by resolution shall continue to be governed as before the merger until the effective date specified in the adopted joint merger plan.
(3) QUALIFIED ELECTOR-INITIATED MERGER PLAN.The qualified electors of two or more contiguous independent special districts may commence a merger proceeding by each filing a petition with the governing body of their respective independent special district proposing to be merged. The petition must contain the signatures of at least 40 percent of the qualified electors of each component independent special district and must be submitted to the appropriate component independent special district governing body no later than 1 year after the start of the qualified elector-initiated merger process.
(a) The petition must comply with, and be circulated in, the following form:

PETITION FOR
INDEPENDENT SPECIAL DISTRICT MERGER

We, the undersigned electors and legal voters of   (name of independent special district)  , qualified to vote at the next general or special election, respectfully petition that there be submitted to the electors and legal voters of   (name of independent special district or districts proposed to be merged)  , for their approval or rejection at a referendum held for that purpose, a proposal to merge   (name of component independent special district)   and   (name of component independent special district or districts)  .

In witness thereof, we have signed our names on the date indicated next to our signatures.

Date      Name   Home Address

(print under signature)

 

 

(b) The petition must be validated by a signed statement by a witness who is a duly qualified elector of one of the component independent special districts, a notary public, or another person authorized to take acknowledgments.
1. A statement that is signed by a witness who is a duly qualified elector of the respective district shall be accepted for all purposes as the equivalent of an affidavit. Such statement must be in substantially the following form:

“I,   (name of witness)  , state that I am a duly qualified voter of   (name of independent special district)  . Each of the   (insert number)   persons who have signed this petition sheet has signed his or her name in my presence on the dates indicated above and identified himself or herself to be the same person who signed the sheet. I understand that this statement will be accepted for all purposes as the equivalent of an affidavit and, if it contains a materially false statement, shall subject me to the penalties of perjury.”

Date     Signature of Witness

2. A statement that is signed by a notary public or another person authorized to take acknowledgments must be in substantially the following form:

“On the date indicated above before me personally came each of the   (insert number)   electors and legal voters whose signatures appear on this petition sheet, who signed the petition in my presence and who, being by me duly sworn, each for himself or herself, identified himself or herself as the same person who signed the petition, and I declare that the foregoing information they provided was true.”

Date     Signature of Witness

3. An alteration or correction of information appearing on a petition’s signature line, other than an uninitialed signature and date, does not invalidate such signature. In matters of form, this subsection shall be liberally construed, not inconsistent with substantial compliance thereto and the prevention of fraud.
4. The appropriately signed petition must be filed with the governing body of each component independent special district. The petition must be submitted to the supervisors of elections of the counties in which the district lands are located. The supervisors shall, within 30 business days after receipt of the petitions, certify to the governing bodies the number of signatures of qualified electors contained on the petitions.
(c) Upon verification by the supervisors of elections of the counties within which component independent special district lands are located that 40 percent of the qualified electors have petitioned for merger and that all such petitions have been executed within 1 year after the date of the initiation of the qualified-elector merger process, the governing bodies of each component independent special district shall meet within 30 business days to prepare and approve by resolution a proposed elector-initiated merger plan. The proposed plan must include:
1. The name of each component independent special district to be merged;
2. The name of the proposed merged independent district;
3. The rights, duties, and obligations of the merged independent district;
4. The territorial boundaries of the proposed merged independent district;
5. The governmental organization of the proposed merged independent district insofar as it concerns elected and appointed officials and public employees, along with a transitional plan and schedule for elections and appointments of officials;
6. A fiscal estimate of the potential cost or savings as a result of the merger;
7. Each component independent special district’s assets, including, but not limited to, real and personal property, and the current value thereof;
8. Each component independent special district’s liabilities and indebtedness, bonded and otherwise, and the current value thereof;
9. Terms for the assumption and disposition of existing assets, liabilities, and indebtedness of each component independent special district, jointly, separately, or in defined proportions;
10. Terms for the common administration and uniform enforcement of existing laws within the proposed merged independent district;
11. The times and places for public hearings on the proposed joint merger plan; and
12. The effective date of the proposed merger.
(d) The resolution endorsing the proposed elector-initiated merger plan must be approved by a majority vote of the governing bodies of each component independent special district and must be adopted at least 60 business days before any general or special election on the proposed elector-initiated plan.
(e) Within 5 business days after the governing bodies of each component independent special district approve the proposed elector-initiated merger plan, the governing bodies shall:
1. Cause a copy of the proposed elector-initiated merger plan, along with a descriptive summary of the plan, to be displayed and be readily accessible to the public for inspection in at least three public places within the territorial limits of each component independent special district, unless a component independent special district has fewer than three public places, in which case the plan must be accessible for inspection in all public places within the component independent special district;
2. If applicable, cause the proposed elector-initiated merger plan, along with a descriptive summary of the plan and a reference to the public places within each component independent special district where a copy of the merger plan may be examined, to be displayed on a website maintained by each district or otherwise on a website maintained by the county or municipality in which the districts are located; and
3. Arrange for a descriptive summary of the proposed elector-initiated merger plan, and a reference to the public places within the district where a copy may be examined, to be published in a newspaper of general circulation within the component independent special districts at least once each week for 4 successive weeks.
(f) The governing body of each component independent special district shall set a time and place for one or more public hearings on the proposed elector-initiated merger plan. Each public hearing shall be held on a weekday at least 7 business days after the day the first advertisement is published on the proposed elector-initiated merger plan. The hearing or hearings may be held jointly or separately by the governing bodies of the component independent special districts. Any interested person residing in the respective district shall be given a reasonable opportunity to be heard on any aspect of the proposed merger at the public hearing.
1. Notice of the public hearing on the proposed elector-initiated merger plan must be published pursuant to the notice requirements in s. 189.015 and must provide a descriptive summary of the elector-initiated merger plan and a reference to the public places within the component independent special districts where a copy of the plan may be examined.
2. After the final public hearing, the governing bodies of each component independent special district may amend the proposed elector-initiated merger plan if the amended version complies with the notice and public hearing requirements provided in this section. The governing bodies must approve a final version of the merger plan within 60 business days after the final hearing.
(g) After the final public hearing, the governing bodies shall notify the supervisors of elections of the applicable counties in which district lands are located of the adoption of the resolution by each governing body. The supervisors of elections shall schedule a date for the separate referenda for each district. The referenda may be held in each district on the same day, or on different days, but no more than 20 days apart.
1. Notice of a referendum on the merger of the component independent special districts must be provided pursuant to the notice requirements in s. 100.342. At a minimum, the notice must include:
a. A brief summary of the resolution and elector-initiated merger plan;
b. A statement as to where a copy of the resolution and petition for merger may be examined;
c. The names of the component independent special districts to be merged and a description of their territory;
d. The times and places at which the referendum will be held; and
e. Such other matters as may be necessary to call, provide for, and give notice of the referendum and to provide for the conduct thereof and the canvass of the returns.
2. The referenda must be held in accordance with the Florida Election Code and may be held pursuant to ss. 101.6101-101.6107. All costs associated with the referenda shall be borne by the respective component independent special district.
3. The ballot question in such referendum placed before the qualified electors of each component independent special district to be merged must be in substantially the following form:

“Shall   (name of component independent special district)   and   (name of component independent special district or districts)   be merged into   (name of newly merged independent district)  ?

 YES

 NO”

4. If the component independent special districts proposing to merge have disparate millage rates, the ballot question in the referendum placed before the qualified electors of each component independent special district must be in substantially the following form:

“Shall   (name of component independent special district)   and   (name of component independent special district or districts)   be merged into   (name of newly merged independent district)   if the voter-approved maximum millage rate within each independent special district will not increase absent a subsequent referendum?

 YES

 NO”

5. In any referendum held pursuant to this section, the ballots shall be counted, returns made and canvassed, and results certified in the same manner as other elections or referenda for the component independent special districts.
6. The merger may not take effect unless a majority of the votes cast in each component independent special district are in favor of the merger. If one of the component independent special districts does not obtain a majority vote, the referendum fails, and merger does not take effect.
7. If the merger is approved by a majority of the votes cast in each component independent special district, the merged district shall notify the Special District Accountability Program pursuant to s. 189.016(2) and the local general-purpose governments in which any part of the component independent special districts is situated pursuant to s. 189.016(7).
8. If the referendum fails, the merger process under this subsection may not be initiated for the same purpose within 2 years after the date of the referendum.
(h) Component independent special districts merged pursuant to an elector-initiated merger plan shall continue to be governed as before the merger until the effective date specified in the adopted elector-initiated merger plan.
(4) EFFECTIVE DATE.The effective date of the merger shall be as provided in the joint merger plan or elector-initiated merger plan, as appropriate, and is not contingent upon the future act of the Legislature.
(a) However, as soon as practicable, the merged independent district shall, at its own expense, submit a unified charter for the merged district to the Legislature for approval. The unified charter must make the powers of the district consistent within the merged independent district and repeal the special acts of the districts which existed before the merger.
(b) Within 30 business days after the effective date of the merger, the merged independent district’s governing body, as indicated in this section, shall hold an organizational meeting to implement the provisions of the joint merger plan or elector-initiated merger plan, as appropriate.
(5) RESTRICTIONS DURING TRANSITION PERIOD.Until the Legislature formally approves the unified charter pursuant to a special act, each component independent special district is considered a subunit of the merged independent district subject to the following restrictions:
(a) During the transition period, the merged independent district is limited in its powers and financing capabilities within each subunit to those powers that existed within the boundaries of each subunit which were previously granted to the component independent special district in its existing charter before the merger. The merged independent district may not, solely by reason of the merger, increase its powers or financing capability.
(b) During the transition period, the merged independent district shall exercise only the legislative authority to levy and collect revenues within the boundaries of each subunit which was previously granted to the component independent special district by its existing charter before the merger, including the authority to levy ad valorem taxes, non-ad valorem assessments, impact fees, and charges.
1. The merged independent district may not, solely by reason of the merger or the legislatively approved unified charter, increase ad valorem taxes on property within the original limits of a subunit beyond the maximum millage rate approved by the electors of the component independent special district unless the electors of such subunit approve an increase at a subsequent referendum of the subunit’s electors. Each subunit may be considered a separate taxing unit.
2. The merged independent district may not, solely by reason of the merger, charge non-ad valorem assessments, impact fees, or other new fees within a subunit which were not otherwise previously authorized to be charged.
(c) During the transition period, each component independent special district of the merged independent district must continue to file all information and reports required under this chapter as subunits until the Legislature formally approves the unified charter pursuant to a special act.
(d) The intent of this part is to preserve and transfer to the merged independent district all authority that exists within each subunit and was previously granted by the Legislature and, if applicable, by referendum.
(6) EFFECT OF MERGER, GENERALLY.On and after the effective date of the merger, the merged independent district shall be treated and considered for all purposes as one entity under the name and on the terms and conditions set forth in the joint merger plan or elector-initiated merger plan, as appropriate.
(a) All rights, privileges, and franchises of each component independent special district and all assets, real and personal property, books, records, papers, seals, and equipment, as well as other things in action, belonging to each component independent special district before the merger shall be deemed as transferred to and vested in the merged independent district without further act or deed.
(b) All property, rights-of-way, and other interests are as effectually the property of the merged independent district as they were of the component independent special district before the merger. The title to real estate, by deed or otherwise, under the laws of this state vested in any component independent special district before the merger may not be deemed to revert or be in any way impaired by reason of the merger.
(c) The merged independent district is in all respects subject to all obligations and liabilities imposed and possesses all the rights, powers, and privileges vested by law in other similar entities.
(d) Upon the effective date of the merger, the joint merger plan or elector-initiated merger plan, as appropriate, is subordinate in all respects to the contract rights of all holders of any securities or obligations of the component independent special districts outstanding at the effective date of the merger.
(e) The new registration of electors is not necessary as a result of the merger, but all elector registrations of the component independent special districts shall be transferred to the proper registration books of the merged independent district, and new registrations shall be made as provided by law as if no merger had taken place.
(7) GOVERNING BODY OF MERGED INDEPENDENT DISTRICT.
(a) From the effective date of the merger until the next general election, the governing body of the merged independent district shall be comprised of the governing body members of each component independent special district, with such members serving until the governing body members elected at the next general election take office.
(b) Beginning with the next general election following the effective date of merger, the governing body of the merged independent district shall be comprised of five members. The office of each governing body member shall be designated by seat, which shall be distinguished from other body member seats by an assigned numeral: 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. The governing body members that are elected in this initial election following the merger shall serve unequal terms of 2 and 4 years in order to create staggered membership of the governing body, with:
1. Member seats 1, 3, and 5 being designated for 4-year terms; and
2. Member seats 2 and 4 being designated for 2-year terms.
(c) In general elections thereafter, all governing body members shall serve 4-year terms.
(8) EFFECT ON EMPLOYEES.Except as otherwise provided by law and except for those officials and employees protected by tenure of office, civil service provisions, or a collective bargaining agreement, upon the effective date of merger, all appointive offices and positions existing in all component independent special districts involved in the merger are subject to the terms of the joint merger plan or elector-initiated merger plan, as appropriate. Such plan may provide for instances in which there are duplications of positions and for other matters such as varying lengths of employee contracts, varying pay levels or benefits, different civil service regulations in the constituent entities, and differing ranks and position classifications for similar positions. For those employees who are members of a bargaining unit certified by the Public Employees Relations Commission, the requirements of chapter 447 apply.
(9) EFFECT ON DEBTS, LIABILITIES, AND OBLIGATIONS.
(a) All valid and lawful debts and liabilities existing against a merged independent district, or which may arise or accrue against the merged independent district, which but for merger would be valid and lawful debts or liabilities against one or more of the component independent special districts, are debts against or liabilities of the merged independent district and accordingly shall be defrayed and answered to by the merged independent district to the same extent, and no further than, the component independent special districts would have been bound if a merger had not taken place.
(b) The rights of creditors and all liens upon the property of any of the component independent special districts shall be preserved unimpaired. The respective component districts shall be deemed to continue in existence to preserve such rights and liens, and all debts, liabilities, and duties of any of the component districts attach to the merged independent district.
(c) All bonds, contracts, and obligations of the component independent special districts which exist as legal obligations are obligations of the merged independent district, and all such obligations shall be issued or entered into by and in the name of the merged independent district.
(10) EFFECT ON ACTIONS AND PROCEEDINGS.In any action or proceeding pending on the effective date of merger to which a component independent special district is a party, the merged independent district may be substituted in its place, and the action or proceeding may be prosecuted to judgment as if merger had not taken place. Suits may be brought and maintained against a merged independent district in any state court in the same manner as against any other independent special district.
(11) EFFECT ON ANNEXATION.Chapter 171 continues to apply to all annexations by a city within the component independent special districts’ boundaries after merger occurs. Any moneys owed to a component independent special district pursuant to s. 171.093, or any interlocal service boundary agreement as a result of annexation predating the merger, shall be paid to the merged independent district after merger.
(12) EFFECT ON MILLAGE CALCULATIONS.The merged independent special district is authorized to continue or conclude procedures under chapter 200 on behalf of the component independent special districts. The merged independent special district shall make the calculations required by chapter 200 for each component individual special district separately.
(13) DETERMINATION OF RIGHTS.If any right, title, interest, or claim arises out of a merger or by reason thereof which is not determinable by reference to this section, the joint merger plan or elector-initiated merger plan, as appropriate, or otherwise under the laws of this state, the governing body of the merged independent district may provide therefor in a manner conforming to law.
(14) EXEMPTION.This section does not apply to independent special districts whose governing bodies are elected by district landowners voting the acreage owned within the district.
(15) PREEMPTION.This section preempts any special act to the contrary.
History.s. 1, ch. 2012-16; s. 21, ch. 2014-22; s. 12, ch. 2015-2; s. 19, ch. 2016-22.
Note.Former s. 189.4042(5).