Government Entities Must Pay 298 Drainage District Assessments

December 6, 2021

by Seth Behn and Chris Lyon 

Government agencies often grapple with the questions of overlapping jurisdiction. For example, when a government entity owns real property within the boundaries of another entity, it leads to ambiguities surrounding permissible use, zoning authority, and taxation. For special districts, a common question is, “can we assess the properties that are within our boundaries and receiving a special benefit, but are owned by another government entity?”

That exact question was recently answered by the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Hobe-St. Lucie Conservancy District v. Martin County, et al. (Case No. 4D20-2036, Fla. 4th DCA, 2021).

Generally, public property is subject to special assessments only if authorized by the legislature. However, the legislature’s intent is not always clear, as was the case for Hobe-St. Lucie Conservancy District. Both Martin County and the South Florida Water Management District (“SFWMD”) own real estate within the boundaries of the Conservancy District totaling nearly 3,000 acres. For twenty years both Martin County and SFWMD paid the non-ad valorem assessments levied by Conservancy District without complaint. But in 2016, SFWMD’s executive director ordered the payments to cease. Subsequently, Martin County likewise discontinued paying the assessment.

The trial court found that Martin County and SFWMD did not have to pay the assessments of the Conservancy District. However, the Fourth District Court of Appeals disagreed with that conclusion. The District Court in its interpretation of the applicable statutes found governmental entities were ­not exempt from the special assessments levied by the Conservancy District for drainage and stormwater services.  Click here for the full article.