BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida’s auditor general found increasing financial stress among cities, counties and special districts after reviewing hundreds of audits and financial statements filed in fiscal 2010.

Special districts — including community development districts with defaulted land-secured municipal bonds — reported the highest percentage of fiscal problems, according to the auditor’s report, released Thursday.

The annual review covered the audits and financial reports filed by 66 counties, 388 municipalities and 920 special districts. Auditors examined the reports against criteria to determine which entities could be in a state of financial emergency. The first condition is failure to pay short-term loans or make debt service payments due to a lack of funds.

Some 155 entities met one or more of the conditions, and could be in an official state of financial emergency, auditors said.

“The 155 entities meeting one or more of the specified conditions represents a 52% increase compared to the prior fiscal year,” the report said. “This increase is primarily attributable to special districts.”

A total of 98 local governmental entities reported deteriorating financial conditions. Those conditions include high property tax rates, insufficient unreserved fund equity, declining excess revenues over expenditures or decreasing operating income, low or declining levels of cash and investments, and increasing long-term debt.

A major contributor to the fiscal stress is the significant decrease in taxable property values due largely to the recession and its lingering effects, as well as legislatively imposed restrictions on tax levies, auditors said.

Since 2006, taxable property values have decreased by $290 billion for counties and $152 billion for municipalities, or an 18% reduction for both. Tax levies also decreased by $1.9 billion, or 22%, for counties and $689 million, or 17%, for municipalities over the same period.

More than 100 entities reported deficit unreserved and unrestricted funds at the end of fiscal 2010, an increase of 72% compared to examinations in fiscal 2005, according to auditors.

Three counties, 30 municipalities, and 159 special districts reported insufficient cash and investments to cover current liabilities.

Auditors found that long-term debt totaled $31.5 billion at the end of fiscal 2010, an increase of $7.3 billion, or 30%,  since 2005.

Last month, Gov. Rick Scott ordered an investigation of the state’s 1,618 special districts, some of which have defaulted on billions of dollars of municipal bonds. The review will include determining if the districts are operating properly, and could result in legislative changes.

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