By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Have you ever heard of a Municipal Service Benefit Unit* (MSBU)?
It’s a type of special tax district, created in the state of Florida, to provide certain municipal services to unincorporated areas. The MSBU is created by resolution of County Commissioners, following an open hearing where property owners can provide comments and concerns. (See reference section for details)
Special Districts exist across the U.S., under many different names and forms. I’ve introduced readers to Special Districts in a few previous blogs here and here. Depending on how these special districts are created and administered, they can be just as undemocratic and non-transparent as homeowners associations.
And while thousands of tax districts have been established when planned communities were created, a new trend is emerging. As Association Governed planned communities mature, and as their infrastructure begins to break down, County and Municipal governments are turning to the creation of special tax districts to finance needed repairs or redevelopment, including flood control.
Special Districts provide a way for local governments to take over repair, reconstruction, and maintenance without taxing all of the constituents within their geographic boundaries. With a tax district, only property owners directly affected by the improvements are assessed for the additional cost, which is added to property tax bills.
Timber Oaks Community Services Association near Tampa, FL, is one example. The HOA consists of 1999 homes, and its roads and storm drainage were constructed 40 years ago.
Timber Oaks was once a thriving golf community, but, like many other golf course in Florida and beyond, the course closed years ago, and has remained vacant and overgrown for almost a decade.
During the past four decades, the land surrounding Timber Oaks has been heavily developed. For many years, Timber Oaks has been known to experience localized flooding and property damage during and following seasonal rains.
At first a developer wanted to build several hundred more homes on the defunct golf course. But that idea was rejected by homeowners and County Commissioners. The developer sued the County for not allowing him to build homes, so the County had to acquire the former golf course.
The County is now working with the South West Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) to create a new $9 million dollar storm drainage plan that would create retention ponds on former fairways. Even though SWFWMD is providing about $4 million, and Pasco County is kicking in $1 million, the remaining $4 million must be paid for by Timber Oaks property owners. It will reportedly cost each homeowner $112 annually for the next 20 years to build and maintain the new flood control project.
A minority of homeowners have objected, claiming the retention ponds will not directly benefit them. Those homeowners are outnumbers by the majority that want the former golf course lawns to be maintained, and want to avoid having to pump water out of their homes in the future.
These homeowners have lost what was once a manicured golf course, only to be forced to pay for storm drainage and flood control that should have been considered when Timber Oaks was initially developed 4 decades ago.
Apparently nobody thought about the future 40 years ago.
The new MSBU will be governed by Pasco County Commissioners.
The Timber Oaks Master Association and its subordinate homeowner and condo associations will continue to exist to provide other existing services.
I suspect we will see more special tax districts created to address costly infrastructure projects that are otherwise unaffordable for homeowners in Association Governed Housing.
Pasco acquires Timber Oaks Golf Course; drainage work to follow
“Built and marketed as a 55-and-older golf course community, the Timber Oaks course was shut down in 2006. The Pasco County Commission later rejected a plan from the course owner Pacer LC to turn the vacant 78 acres into 230 homes. The commission vote came amid concerns over extra traffic atop deteriorating roads, housing marketed to young families in a community earmarked for seniors and flooding. Pacer sued, and a 2014 settlement called for the county to acquire the golf course for $2.4 million and to build retention ponds, the cost of which would be billed to homeowners in a new taxing district.”
“That plan hit a hiccup, however, when homeowners in Spanish Gate Village, a 72-home enclave within Timber Oaks, sued the county earlier this year, contending that the new tax district, known as a municipal service benefit unit, offered them no benefits. They objected to the proposed $112 annual assessment.
“All of this has kind of created a lot of animosity in our community,” Jane Mazzola of Spanish Gate Village told county commissioners recently. “We were a happy place to live; now, we’re not that happy anymore.”
…the water management district. The district will provide $4.1 million toward the $9 million cost of acquiring the land and constructing the ponds. The county is paying for the $1 million design and permitting of the project, and the homeowners will finance the rest via an annual assessment for 20 years.
Reference – What is a Municipal Service Benefit Unit?
Sec. 40-96. – Creation; authorized.
Pursuant F.S. ch. 125, pt. I (F.S. § 125.01 et seq.), and other applicable provisions of law, municipal service benefit units (“MSBU”) may be established in unincorporated areas of the county under the provisions of this article for the purpose of providing fire protection, law enforcement, beach erosion control, recreation services and facilities, water, streets and roads, sidewalks, garbage and trash collection and disposal, waste and sewage collection and disposal, drainage, transportation, and other essential facilities and services. The cost of these improvements or services may be paid in whole or in part from special assessments or other charges levied within such units and the cost of the improvements may also be paid in whole or in part from the proceeds of bonds issued for such purposes. Subject to the consent by ordinance of the governing body of the affected municipality given either annually or for a term of years, the boundaries of an MSBU may include all or part of a municipality. The boundaries of an MSBU may be non-contiguous.
(Code 1982, § 1-13.6-1; Ord. No. 14-001, pt. B, 1-7-2014)
Sec. 40-97. – Governing body of municipal service benefit units.
The board of county commissioners (the “board”) shall be deemed to be the governing body of each benefit unit created pursuant to this article. References to the board of county commissioners or to municipal service benefit units herein shall be deemed to include both, as appropriate.
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