There has been a lot of back-and-forth action going on lately regarding Disney, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District), but now we’ve got MORE updates.
Recently, the DeSantis-appointed board revealed that it would be working to eliminate some benefits and perks currently offered to the employees of the District, including annual passes to Disney World. In place of these perks, the District has reportedly proposed to give employees a $1,000 annual stipend instead. So what’s happening with this plan now and what other changes could be coming to the District soon? We’ve got some major news.
On August 23rd, 2023, the Board of Supervisors for the District held a meeting where they discussed the removal of these perks and more. Let’s go through the major updates.
Annual Pass Removal Backlash
First, at the start of the meeting, there was time set aside for public comments, and overwhelmingly the comments were about the removal of the annual pass perk for District employees. The responses from those commenting were NOT positive.
One employee from the Reedy Creek Fire Department said that the members of the department take their jobs seriously and have enjoyed the benefit of park admission for decades. He shared that the removal of this benefit takes away one important reason why folks often apply to work for that specific fire department.
He noted that the Disney pass benefit is huge and has allowed him to bring his family to the parks. He also insisted that the District employees were told their jobs and benefits were “safe” when the District changed hands (to the DeSantis-appointed board) and that they were promised things would be better. But he claimed that all they’ve seen and heard have been cuts.
Another individual who spoke was a citizen of Central Florida. They argued that the Board has exhibited a pattern of lies and deceit.
One citizen stated that in their view this cut to recent benefits appears to be done in a spiteful nature. They said that while the government claims the war against Disney is over (perhaps a reference to the DeSantis interview where he mentioned that he has moved on from the conflict), things are only just beginning.
They also argued that the Board is not focusing on doing its job but instead is hurting its own employees, and they said that taking away park access is a “low blow.”
Another member of the fire department also came up to speak and noted that he wanted to use the benefits it provided him (namely that Disney annual pass) to make memories for his kids, just like his dad (who was a firefighter for 26 years) did.
He claimed that people had been coming to this fire department from all over the state mainly because of the park access for their families.
Another fire department member said that to think that pass is now in jeopardy is “disturbing.” He also argued that the current board is doing everything possible to DISMANTLE what had been agreed upon.
Martin Garcia, the chair of the Board of Supervisors at the District, responded to the public comments by arguing that the current board was able to at least come to a contract agreement with the firefighters within a few months, which the old board had been negotiating for years.
He said that they contacted a lawyer to understand the situation surrounding these benefits. According to Garcia, they felt that removing the park access benefit was necessary because:
- The policy discriminated (or in this case was favorable) to just one business
- The policy was inequitable with respect to employees — some with larger families got a larger benefit, and some did not really use their passes so they were paying for a benefit that some weren’t using
- The policy had the potential to endorse something unlawful — Garcia argued that the Board was paying around $2.5 million for these passes and was in favor of just one taxpayer and unfair
According to the Board, the plan is to gross up wages by a certain amount to be “fair.” He noted that if the number they’ll add to the wages needs to be increased then they will do that to equitably replace the policy they have eliminated.
They also noted that they haven’t fully formulated the policy for retirees but admitted that some retirees will fare better than others.
We’ll continue to keep an eye out for how these changes all play out in the future.
Security Cameras and Guardrails
During this recent meeting, the Board also took a look at the 2024 budget. The District had previously shared that their District Administrator found savings in the budget because they would be cutting reportedly “wasteful” spending by the previous Board.
In this meeting, the Board again emphasized that the old Board authorized expenses the new Board would never approve including annual pass benefits for some employees, discounts on Disney merchandise and cruises, and private golf and soccer outings.
They also discussed how some changes would be made in terms of 911 calls and how those are directed. The budget also reportedly calls for $2.7 million to be spent on guardrails in the District. The board seemed to indicate that this investment in guardrails was “long overdue.”
There will also be expanded use of security cameras in some parts of the District, particularly in parking garages and other spots across the District.
Some of the planned debt appears to include improvements at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel, the hotels at Flamingo Crossings, construction at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and more.
There has also been an estimated close to $5 million for litigation efforts due to the ongoing legal battles between the District and Disney.
The budget won’t be finalized/approved until September and public feedback on the matter is encouraged.
An Investigation Led by a Professor
The Board also discussed the hiring of a law professor — Professor Donald J. Kochan (who teaches at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University) — to advise the Board on its governance structure.
They claimed that under the old structure, Disney had its own “kingdom” but there was a myriad of financial, legal, urban planning, and government issues. They have hired Kochan to examine the old board structure.
He will prepare a detailed research report “identifying whether and what legal and constitutional authority and infirmities and structural strengths and abnormalities exist within the governance of the former Reedy Creek Improvement District.” That report will also provide “initial recommendations for reform of existing governance regimes and steps for reform.”
A draft is proposed to be completed by November 3rd, 2023, so we’ll be on the lookout for updates on that.
In terms of other updates, Glen Gilzean (the District Administrator) officially acknowledged that he had resigned from his position on the Florida Commission on Ethics to maintain his role in the District. His work in both roles had been revealed to be a conflict of interest.
And that’s all in terms of Reedy Creek updates for now. The next Board meeting is scheduled for September 13th where there will be a 1st reading of the budget. We’ll continue to watch for more news and let you know what we find.