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


In April, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), effectively ending the Walt Disney Corporation’s special independent district that has been in place in the state since 1967.

The move casts doubt on the future of the Reedy Creek Fire Department, established as part of the RCID in 1968 to respond to emergencies across the district.  

The creation of the tax district was at the request of Walt Disney himself. Learn more about the RCID and how Disney’s fire department operates within the boundaries.

In 1967, the Florida State Legislature approved the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
In 1967, the Florida State Legislature approved the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. (Photo/RCFD)

What is the Reedy Creek Improvement District?

The district, which encompasses 38.5 square miles that straddle Orange and Osceola counties, operates as a "de facto county government," according to NPR, providing services to landowners, such as levying taxes to maintain roads, provide water and offer public safety services.

Why was the RCID created?

When designing Walt Disney World in the 1960s, engineers found that there were not enough power or water services near the desired 25,000 acres of land selected for the amusement park.

To solve this problem, Disney proposed the creation of an independent special district, for which, instead of relying on county taxes to pay for services, the cost of services would be paid for by the district’s landowners, namely, the Walt Disney Co.

In 1967, the Florida State Legislature approved the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. This allowed plans for the theme park to move forward, with landowners investing in the necessary public services to build and maintain the entertainment resort.

The arrangement also meant that Florida residents of RCID did not have to pay county taxes for those services provided by the district.

How big is the RCID?

The district’s 38.5 square miles include:

  • 4 theme parks
  • 2 water parks
  • 1 sports complex
  • 175 lane miles of roadway
  • 67 miles of waterway
  • City of Bay Lake
  • City of Lake Buena Vista

What services does the RCID provide?

RCID operates as any municipal government does, by providing:

  • Fire protection
  • Emergency services
  • Maintenance of public roadways and bridges
  • Potable water production
  • Treatment
  • Storage
  • Pumping and distribution
  • Reclaimed water distribution
  • Chilled and hot water systems
  • Wastewater services
  • Drainage and flood control
  • Electric power generation and distribution
  • Solid waste and recyclables collection and disposal

How does the fire service operate within the district?

Established in 1968, the Reedy Creek Fire Department’s four stations provide fire prevention and protection to the district, including Disney properties. Ambulance services were added in 1971, with ALS added in 1976.

The department provides fire prevention, protection and emergency services to the four Disney theme parks and two water parks located in the RCID.
The department provides fire prevention, protection and emergency services to the four Disney theme parks and two water parks located in the RCID. (Photo/RCFD)

How does the RCID help the Walt Disney Co.?

The district is governed by a board of supervisors appointed by Disney, allowing the company to rule itself, essentially removing bureaucratic red tape for construction projects, upgrades, new structures, etc.

Why did Florida dissolve the RCID?

In March, Gov. DeSantis signed House Bill 1557, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” into law. Opponents of the legislation dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” law due to what some say is "hateful" rhetoric, including President Joe Biden.

After internal pressure, as well as vocal pressure from park employees who opposed the bill, Disney CEO Bob Chapek released a statement announcing that the “goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”

In response, DeSantis said Disney doesn’t “run this state” and it “will never run this state as long as I’m governor.” Then, on April 19, DeSantis announced he was expanding the state’s special legislative session to consider dissolving Disney’s independent district and five other special districts.

On April 20, the state Senate voted to revoke Disney’s district. The next day, the state House passes the bill as well. DeSantis signed the dissolution into law on April 22.

The district will be abolished on June 1, 2023.

What will happen after the district is no longer active?

State and local officials are working to determine what impact the loss of RCID will have on Orange and Osceola county residents. The cost of providing services could fall to those counties, which had previously, in part, been served by the RCID.

“If we had to take over the first response, the public safety components for Reedy Creek with no new revenue, that would be catastrophic for our budget here within Orange County,” said that county's mayor, Jerry Demings, in an interview with The Washington Post.

In addition, the district holds about $1 billion in bond debt, which the counties could be responsible for under the dissolution.


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