What is a Special District?
“Independent, special purpose governmental units (other than school districts) that exist as separate entities with substantial administrative and fiscal independence from general-purpose governments” (U.S. Census Bureau, 1994, p.23).
“Legally constituted governmental entities…that are neither cities, counties, redevelopment agencies, or schools” (Office of the California State Controller, 1994, p.2).
What does a Special District do?
Special districts fulfill a needed function, as determined by a local constituency. For example, the League of Women Voters identified the following types of special districts: Hospital districts, levee districts, community service districts, municipal utility districts, public utility districts, park & recreation districts, airport districts, sanitary districts, water districts, resource conservation districts, water storage districts.
Additionally, special districts are formed to provide the following services: fire services (emergency mitigation), road maintenance, drainage functions, mosquito abatement and library service.
Are all Special Districts the same?
1. Single Purpose Districts: The district provides a single service or function, i.e. street lighting.
2. Combination Districts: The preponderance of the fees charged does not make a significant portion of the district’s revenues.
3. Multipurpose Districts: The district provides at least two services, i.e. fire districts provide fire suppression, EMS, hazardous materials mitigation, technical rescue, fire prevention services, and arson investigation.
4. Independent Districts: The district is governed by an elected board. Created by residents who see an unfilled need or service. Independent special districts can determine its own budget, levy taxes, collect charges, and issue debt.
5. Dependent Districts: The district is governed by a city council or county board of supervisors, directly or indirectly. Joint Powers Authority or Joint Powers Agreement (JPA's)
6. Enterprise Districts: These districts are able to charge fees for some or all of their services, i.e. garbage, sewer, water.
7. Non-Enterprise Districts: Generally do not charge for their services, i.e. fire protection, libraries.
What are the Principle Types of Special Districts?
Fire Protection: 18%
Housing & Community Development: 12%
How Many Special Districts are there in California, Compared to Other Forms of Government?
380 Redevelopment Agencies-
1,100 School Districts-
4800 Special Districts-
What Laws Govern Special Districts?
All State and Federal Laws apply. Additionally, the following laws are particularly important to special districts.
1. The Cortese-Knox Act-
2. The Brown Act-
3. The Bergeson Fire District Law-
How Did Special Districts get Their Start?
Turnpike trusts in the United Kingdom in 1500 (Smith, 1974). George Washington’s secretary of the Treasury used “mixed corporations” to finance banks, canals, turnpikes and bridges. During the 19th century America employed special transportation districts for toll roads and canals.
In California the first two irrigation districts were formed in 1887 under the Wright Act. The Depression caused a dramatic increase in special districts so the States could evade debt limitations, thus allowing them to participate in national public works projects. During World War-II a scarcity of materials slowed special district growth, but postwar development pressures stimulated the expansion of special districts.
What Controversies Surround the Discussion of Special Districts?
*Uncoordinated Government Service Delivery-
*Consolidations, Mergers and Annexations-
*Run Away Taxation-
How Can We Learn More About Special Districts?
1. California Legislative Analysts Office Home Page @: https://www.lao.ca.gov/default.asp
2. Morgan, Stephen, (1996). The Impact of Special District Reorganization. University of Southern California: Dissertation.
3. Burns, Nancy, (1994). The Formation of American Local Governments: Private Values in Public Institutions. New York: Oxford University Press.
4. Downing, Paul B. and Thomas J. DiLorenzo (1987). “User Charges and Special Districts.” In J. Richard Aronson and Eli Shawtz, eds. Management Policies in Local Government Finance. Washington, DC: International City Management Assn.
5. Advisory Commission on Inter-governmental Relations, (1964). The Problem of Special Districts in American Government. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.