FILE - Florida capitol

The Florida capitol buildings in Tallahassee.

(The Center Square) – Local governments should reduce the number of mandatory hearings to adopt ordinances, be allowed to hold virtual meetings in emergencies and be restricted in levying business occupancy taxes.

Those are among six recommendations outlined in an 8-page draft report posted by the Local Government Efficiency Task Force, which also calls on Florida legislators to standardize statewide local election schedules, which can span all months of the calendar year including through this year.

The six-member task force was created “to review the governance structure and function of local governments and determine if changes are necessary to make such governments more efficient” during last year’s session when lawmakers approved a provision in a budget-implementing bill.

The panel is chaired by Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and supported by the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Governmental Accountability (OPPAGA).

Other members, all appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, former House Speaker Jose Oliva and former Senate President Bill Galvano, are Lake County Property Appraiser Carey Baker, Volusia County Commission Chair Ed Kelley, former Sarasota County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo, Lee County Property Appraiser Matthew Caldwell and Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

The task force has been convening monthly since December in public meetings. It must present its findings to DeSantis, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and House Speaker Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, by June 1.

The draft report begins by stating the task force “finds that the status quo for several issues is a source of inefficiency for local governments. To address these inefficiencies, task force members made recommendations on several topics: elections, public meetings, reporting, pension plans, unfunded mandates and business taxes.”

Those six recommendations are:

  1. Elections: “The task force recommends that the Legislature standardize the statewide local election.”
  2. Public meetings: The task force recommends lawmakers “amend Florida statutes as needed to reduce the number of municipal hearings” to be equivalent to those required by counties to address discrepancies in the number of required public hearings on proposed ordinances between counties and municipalities. “Recognizing past and current legislation related to notice for public meetings,” the report continues, “the task force recommends legislators engage with the media industry to examine options for updating the notice process to use modern technology platforms.” The report also calls for state lawmakers to “amend Florida statutes as needed to allow local governments to hold virtual meetings in emergencies or extraordinary circumstances.”
  3. Local government reporting: The task force recommends changes in reporting requirements that conflict with municipal fiscal years, require local government reporting requirements be reviewed every 10 years and local government reports submitted to the state be centralized and made readily available for use by the public and other agencies. “As much as it is practical,” the report suggests “the Legislature take steps to consolidate duplicative required local government reports into single reports or existing reports and eliminate any reports utilizing information that has already been developed for other reports, such as that found in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).”
  4. Local government pension plans: “To address financial efficiency issues associated with operating local government pension plans, the task force encourages the Legislature to assemble a related task force … charged with examining issues related to migrating local government pension plans to the Florida Retirement System.”
  5. Unfunded mandates: The report calls on lawmakers “to consider the funding impacts created for local governments by state legislation. For any state mandates that affect local government budgets, the state should partner with local governments to fund programs.”
  6. Local business tax occupancy licenses: The task force recommends the Legislature “limit the amount charged for these licenses to no more than the cost of administering the license.”