Southwest Escambia Improvement District

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The Southwest Escambia Improvement District was a tax increment financing (TIF) district established on May 4, 2006 by the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners. The Board concurrently established the Southwest Escambia Improvement Trust Fund and authorized the issuance of up to $135 million for improvements in the district, including a four-lane widening project for Perdido Key Drive.

The State Attorney quickly approved a May 16, 2006 request to validate the bonds, but was halted by a complaint by Dr. Greg Strand, a local veterinarian. Strand argued that the TIF scheme was an indirect pledge of ad valorem taxation without approval by referendum, as dictated by article VII, section 12 of the Florida Constitution:

SECTION 12. Local bonds.--Counties, school districts, municipalities, special districts and local governmental bodies with taxing powers may issue bonds, certificates of indebtedness or any form of tax anticipation certificates, payable from ad valorem taxation and maturing more than twelve months after issuance only:

(a) to finance or refinance capital projects authorized by law and only when approved by vote of the electors who are owners of freeholds therein not wholly exempt from taxation; or
(b) to refund outstanding bonds and interest and redemption premium thereon at a lower net average interest cost rate.[1]

On August 18, 2006, the Circuit Court ruled that the TIF district and its bonds were constitutional, citing precedent from the 1980 case State v Miami Beach Redevelopment Agency. Strand appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which on September 6, 2007 ruled against Escambia County.

The Supreme Court ruling could affect the $40 million bond planned to be issued by the Community Redevelopment Agency (another TIF district) to finance the Community Maritime Park project.