A deal that got by Orange County commissioners in 1996 is coming back to haunt them. For the next 20 years, taxpayers in metro Orlando and surrounding communities will have $51 million of their tax dollars go to finance half of a $100 million Interstate 4 interchange for Walt Disney World, Orange County’s largest taxpayer.

Orange County commissioners had mistakenly thought four years ago when they voted for the project, the interchange would be built on their dirt. Instead, the new road opens in December in neighboring Osceola County where taxpayers aren’t paying a dime for the project.

But there’s a bright side to the embarrassing scenario. Orange County taxpayers won’t have to fork over the funds unless the interchange generates additional revenue that would allow the county to pay for the cloverleaf. Once the road opens, the new property tax money will come from three Disney-owned assets–Animal Kingdom, Coronado Resort and the Disney Boardwalk attraction.

These three properties alone generated $6.5 million in property taxes last year. Disney’s entire 30,000-acre empire is currently assessed at $4.9 billion. The company paid Orange County $109 million in 1999 property taxes.

Disney officials can’t understand why Orange County government should be upset by the funding arrangement since the county’s $52 million investment will be returned 10-fold in paid property taxes and purchased goods and services over the next 20 years.<p. After all, Disney officials argue, nobody cried foul when its arch rival, Universal Studios, cut a similar deal with the city of Orlando and Orange County in 1995. Both governments are kicking in a total $50 million for improvements at an interchange near Republic Drive that leads to Universal Studio's main entrance.

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