Economic Condition & outlook

The Union County economy is based primarily on agriculture and correctional institutions, ran by the Florida Department of Corrections. 

The economic impact of the prison system was not by accident.  Union County was carved out of Bradford County in 1921.  At that time, the Florida State Prison was in the Raiford area.  In 1955, an addition, called the East Unit, was built just across the New River in Bradford County.  In 1961, the East Unit became a separate institution and was renamed Florida State Prison.  The original prison was renamed Union Correctional Institution, as it is still known today.  In 1958, Union County purchased 1,020 acres from the United States of America that was formerly a US Naval Air Base for $100,000.  In 1961, the County leaders had the foresight of the economic impact of an additional prison operating in the county, and deeded 500 acres to the Florida Department of Corrections for the nominal amount of $1.00 with the condition that a Reception Center and/or Medical Center was built on the property.  In 1989, Union County deeded an additional 260 acres to the Department of Corrections for the construction of The Reception and Medical Center West Unit, in exchange for $10.  It is interesting to note that the minutes from the Board of County Commissioners meeting on July 17, 1958 report that the commissioners recognized that the “location, condition and type of property makes it ideal for a number of various county uses, to-wit: community forest, park service, recreation center, playground, developing agricultural resources of the county, road and bridge purposes, a site for The Northeast Tuberculosis Sanatorium…”  In total, the correctional institutions provide 1,781 of the 4,217 jobs in Union County.

Similar to neighboring counties in North Florida, agriculture is a major industry in Union County.  According to the US 2017 Farm Census, Union County has 308 farms with 53,757 acres of farmland, with the average farm size of 175 acres.  Of these acres used for agriculture, 50% is devoted to pasture and rangeland, 28% to wood and timberland, and 20% to crop production.  The Union County Property Appraiser reports that 87% of the 159,218 acres in the county qualify for an agriculture tax exemption.  There are 1,149 jobs in Union County in agricultural enterprises.

Economic Challenge
A challenge faced by the County government is that Union County is very small in size.  At 249 square miles, it is the smallest in the State of Florida.  The limited land means a small amount of land available to tax.  While the correctional institutions and agriculture industry contribute heavily to the overall economy, the correctional institutions pay no ad-valorem taxes and agriculture exemptions greatly reduce the amount ad-valorem taxes paid to Union County, which means tax revenue that County government has to operate on is low when compared to similar counties.

Content Written by Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller, Kellie Hendricks Rhoades, CPA
Source: 2019 – Popular Annual Financial Report