Understanding Floridas Community Development Districts

By: Calum MacKenzie

Amid concerns over Florida's population growth and over the quality of services and infrastructure supplied to residents, Community Development Districts are becoming popular in Tampa and other regions of Florida as a means of increasing levels of service for residents quickly and cost-effectively. CDDs provide funds not only to maintain communities, but also to direct and finance their growth.

Because there is increased pressure for developers to provide basic infrastructure and services to new communities, many developers in Tampa and Florida in general are beginning to use Master Planned Communities and CDDs as a way of developing cost-effective communities that are both attractive and pleasant to live in and offer a variety of amenities to their residents, such as recreation areas and public parks. The extra cost of building such amenities is recovered by the developer by instituting a CDD tax which is typically payable for a pre-determined amount of time. This effectively allows those who choose to pay the extra tax the opportunity to live in an attractive community with a range of well-maintained amenities.

CDD taxes can consist of both a bond portion and working capital portion. The bond portion is typically payable for a pre-determined amount of time (up to twenty years). This bond is usually divided between all the homeowners in the community and the individual homeowner can pay off their portion of the bond in full at any time if they choose to. In most, if not all, cases there is no penalty for early payment.

The second portion of the CDD (if applicable) provides working capital to maintain the amenities and common areas. This working capital provides long-term assurance that the community's amenities and infrastructure will be maintained after the developer has ceased their involvement in the community. However, not all CDDs handle maintenance via payment of CDD fees. In some communities, maintenance costs are covered by Homeowner's Association Fees, which are payable each year based on the budget of the community. These annual fees tend to vary based on the amenities available within the community, and also depending on the contracts negotiated with service providers in any given year. Note that these taxes and fees are tied to the property, not the owner of the property--if a resident leaves the community, the fees are payable by the new owner. Additionally, the length of time that the bond portion is payable does not change when the property changes hands. If you purchase a property in a ten-year-old CDD in which bond is payable for twenty years, then you are subject to paying that bond for the remaining ten years.

CDDs provide a number of benefits to their residents. First, of course, those who live in these communities have access to a number of conveniently located amenities which may include tennis courts, swimming pools, recreation areas, public parks and pathways. Additionally, these services and amenities are consistently well-maintained. Many CDDs also provide their residents with the ability to choose a Board of Supervisors who is responsible for determining the type and quality of amenities that will be maintained in the area--this means that the community itself determines how the community is maintained and the direction of its growth.

CDDs also offer more benefits in comparison to similar organizations such as standard Homeowner's Associations. CDDs have a much more extensive range of power and abilities. Unlike a Homeowner's Association, a CDD has the power to make decisions on the nature of improvements and amenities in the area, as well as the power to finance those improvements. For example, with government approval, CDDs are able to make decisions regarding provision of schools, waste management, pest control, and water management, as well as streetlights, roads, and bridges.

CDDs and their associated taxes are planned and executed independently of local and federal government; however they are established with government approval. CDDs can be thought of as a special-purpose government unit--public board meetings are scheduled with notice given to all residents, and CDD records are subject to public scrutiny. Additionally, CDD supervisors are subject to financial disclosure in the same way that other local officials are. Once created, CDDs can effectively govern themselves in many respects--they can become self-sufficient in terms of providing both essential and non-essential amenities and services. Furthermore, they can continue to do so long after the original developer has ceased their involvement with the community.

There are more than 250 CDDs in Florida, many of them located in the Tampa area. If you are considering relocating to Tampa, or would simply like to move to a new home in the Tampa area, a CDD is certainly an attractive option. While it's true that there is an extra expense involved in living in such a community, there are also many significant advantages. Residents benefit from living in an attractive area with access to a variety of recreational amenities, and homes located within CDDs typically achieve increased value compared to similar properties that are not located within CDDs. Note that depending on the amenities offered within a community, the amount of CDD tax that applies will vary.

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