Taxpayers file suit challenging dissolution of Disney’s Reedy Creek district

The independent district straddles two Fla. counties and provides municipal services to landowners such as firefighting, EMS and public works

Skyler Swisher
Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — Three Central Florida taxpayers represented by a lawyer running for U.S. Senate are suing Gov. Ron DeSantis over the dissolution of Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.

The lawsuit filed this week in federal court is the first in what could be a barrage of legal challenges to ending The Walt Disney Co.’s private government in Florida.

The dissolution of the independent district would impact the Reedy Creek Fire Department, which protects the area that includes Disney World.
The dissolution of the independent district would impact the Reedy Creek Fire Department, which protects the area that includes Disney World.

The plaintiffs are Michael and Edward Foronda of Kissimmee and Vivian Gorsky of Orange County. They are represented by William Sanchez, a Miami lawyer and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

The lawsuit accuses Florida of violating a state law called the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, as well as a contractual obligation with Reedy Creek’s bondholders and Disney’s First Amendment rights. DeSantis is listed as a defendant, along with Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Jim Zingale, executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue.

“Plaintiffs, who are property owners in the surrounding counties, fear that they will now have to assume the tax burden that Disney previously assumed under the special tax status,” the lawsuit reads. “Their fear is well founded, and it is through this taxpayer lawsuit ... that they are able to protect their rights.”

Sanchez did not return a message Wednesday seeking comment. In a video posted on YouTube, he said he is “punching back hard” against a law he thinks is discriminatory.

“We are basically letting Gov. DeSantis know that he has to follow the Constitution also,” Sanchez said. “Just because he is governor and he’s raised $100 million (for his reelection campaign) doesn’t mean he gets to do whatever he wants just like President Trump used to do.”

DeSantis signed legislation on April 22 abolishing the district on June 1, 2023.

No economic study was done on the ramifications of ending the district. Central Florida officials say local taxpayers could be forced to pick up the district’s $1 billion of outstanding debt and other obligations, resulting in a significant tax increase for residents.

DeSantis insists Central Florida homeowners will not face higher tax bills or other negative consequences. His office has not released a plan explaining how the dissolution would proceed. Christina Pushaw, a DeSantis spokeswoman, said she could not comment specifically on the lawsuit but reiterated the governor’s position.

“The local residents of Orange and Osceola counties will not have to bear the burden of Disney’s debt, as the governor has stated,” she said in an email. “And, there is no scenario where the state would inherit Disney’s debt.”

Reedy Creek, which encompasses Disney World and neighboring properties, has the power to issue tax-free bonds, levy taxes, oversee land use and environmental protections and provide essential public services.

Learn more

Learn more

What is the Reedy Creek Improvement District? Inside Disney's de facto government

How the impending dissolution of the independent district could impact the Reedy Creek Fire Department, which protects the entertainment resort

The lawsuit cites the Florida Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which includes requirements to keep taxpayer information confidential and the “right to fair and consistent application of the tax laws.” It also accuses the state of violating a pledge to bondholders not to dissolve the district until its $1 billion in bond obligations are “fully met and discharged.”

Reedy Creek has previously issued a statement to its investors pointing out the state’s pledge to bondholders, too.

State Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, said Monday she thinks dissolving Reedy Creek would require a voter referendum. The bill’s Republican sponsors said that provision doesn’t apply.

“I can tell you that right now there are legal minds on all sides that are working to see what exactly is possible legally,” Stewart said.


©2022 Orlando Sentinel

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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