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Credit: Reedy Creek Fire Department

DeSantis’s Attack on Disney Will Impact First Responders – and Guest Safety

Disney fans have been shocked this week by the political events surrounding Walt Disney World.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis finalized his retaliation project against The Walt Disney Company by signing a bill that looks set to dissolve the Lake Buena Vista Resort’s special treatment in the state.

Now, Cast Members and first responders hired in the Reedy Creek District are worried about their jobs, including the 200 people who work for the Reedy Creek Fire Department.

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Credit: Reedy Creek Fire Department

Amid a political boycott of The Walt Disney Company and Disney CEO Bob Chapek due to an aggressive stance against a recent education bill, the Florida Governor has seemingly completed a revenge plot to remove the Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Since 1967, the Walt Disney World Resort has been able to reside in Florida unregulated, basically acting as its own “government”. Reedy Creek allows Disney to use its own building codes and inspectors, avoid bureaucratic red tape, and act with the same authority as a county government. Local taxpayers – residents of Orange County and Osceola County – do not have to pay for building or maintaining Disney’s essential services.

But now, after over 50 years, it looks like this is all ending due to retaliation on Republicans’ part for Disney’s stance on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill passed in February. And it appears the consequences of removing Reedy Creek are not just financial – Guest safety is also on the cards.

Bob Chapek with Mickey and Minnie

Credit: Disney

Disney initially shied away from making a public statement regarding Florida’s new bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which targets the LGBTQ+ community and restricts conversations about gender and identities in schools. Disney’s statement against the bill caused a feud with Ron DeSantis, who set about dissolving Walt Disney World’s special bubble in Florida.

Disney essentially taxes itself through the district to pay for roads, water treatment, and other services for Walt Disney World. Reedy Creek owns and operates wastewater collection and treatment systems, electrical utilities, and recycling collection, as well as its own fire department. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement protection.

Paulette Montero, Reedy Creek Professional Firefighter 2nd Vice President, said the decision by DeSantis and the Florida House will impact hundreds of first responders employed by the special district. Walt Disney World has more than 200 first responders, like Montero, to protect and keep the thousands of daily visitors safe. Montero told Spectrum News:

“All of our firefighters and first responders, our paramedics know the property like the back of their hand and are able to provide quick response.” 

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Credit: Disney

The current uncertainty of the Reedy Creek District’s future has first responders now worried about their careers, their employment, and the safety of Walt Disney World and its four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom).

It’s Reedy Creek, not Disney, that employs 370 public employees and more than 200 first responders. When Reedy Creek dissolves on June 1, 2023 into Osceola County and Orange County, firefighters are concerned about what the burden will be on the Orange and Osceola County Fire departments.

Montero revealed that she was told her pension will remain in place as long as she finds a job within the Florida Retirement System. According to Montero, Reedy Creek board members will be hosting its monthly meeting on Wednesday, April 27, at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the turmoil surrounding the Republicans’ controversial decision.

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Credit: Disney

DeSantis did not conduct an economic study on the ramifications of dissolving the district in the new legislature. Legislators spent only two days examining the bill and gave little opportunity for public input.

Democrats have warned that property owners could be hit with higher tax bills if Republicans proceed with their plan. Residents of Orange County and Osceola County may have to assume Disney’s liabilities of anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion if the Reedy Creek Improvement District is dissolved. State Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer said, “It’s shoot first and ask questions later. … And maybe if Disney behaves over the next election cycle, we’ll undo it.”

Four local governments would have to be involved in discussions regarding the assets and taxes of the district – Orange and Osceola counties and the Disney-controlled towns of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.

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Credit: Disney Tips

But rest assured, firefighters and other first responders are closely watching and hope to be part of conversations on the implementation of the bill, said Jon Shirey, president of the Reedy Creek Professional Firefighters Association. They’re not only concerned with their jobs, but also the safety of the Walt Disney World Resort and its Guests and Cast Members.

The Reedy Creek District covers 4 theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom), 2 water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), Disney Springs, 175 lane miles of roadway, 67 miles of waterway, the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, water, electrical, and waste management facilities, as well as over 40,000 hotel rooms and 100s of restaurants and retail stores.

So far, we’ve heard no comment from Disney CEO Bob Chapek on the historic political and financial situation, but stay tuned to Disney Tips for all updates on this developing story.

About Melissa Cannioto

Melissa is an author, adventurer, and chatterbox, who loves to enjoy Disney's theme parks with a Mickey Premium Bar in hand! A British native, she has traveled the world seeking new experiences, and now resides in Florida with her Air Force pilot husband. Find her children's book at @thebearandthehug_book