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Everything You Need To Know About Special Districts

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September 30, 2019
Author: Lorman Education


Just as states, counties, and cities all have their own localized governments to attend to their individual needs, special districts are a form of government that are formed to serve the specific needs of a local community. Unlike other forms of local government, they're established around one or more specific areas of interest such as environmental, social, or financial concerns. Special districts are the most common variety of local government in the country, and their specific functions are numerous and diverse. 

The Many Faces of Special Districts

What we call special districts, or special purpose districts, are essentially any local form of government that provides a specific service not provided by other local governments in the area, like counties or cities. There is no nationally recognized definition of a special district, and different states may interpret the term differently, making it somewhat difficult to narrow down what makes a special district at all. As a general rule, if it's a local government that functions to meet a specific need, then it's probably safe to say it's a special district.

Though the term is somewhat vague, most special districts provide easily recognizable and common services that communities rely on. Fire districts, water districts, park districts, and cemetery districts are some of the most common examples. Most special districts like these exist to provide one specific service to a designated area, though some, called multi-service districts, provide more. Another important facet is that these districts often extend through multiple cities and in some cases even multiple counties. By coordinating with other local governments and similar districts in the region, they're able to offer the most comprehensive coverage possible over the areas they serve.

There are over 38,000 special districts in the United States, providing various services from utilities to mutual security. Some of the most common include districts for housing, fire, and drainage control, but there are many distinct varieties. Other examples include districts for hospitals, soil conservation, highways, and other particular aspects of their respective communities. They're an important part of local governance that most communities can't do without. 

Why Special Districts Are Important

With competing demands from a limited tax base, it's difficult for city and county governments to provide every service their citizens need. That's why, in order to fund new services or expand existing ones, they form special districts. These districts pay for and administer their services independently, allowing them to perform tasks that other local governments are less capable of addressing. Most special districts perform jobs that enable communities to function, like providing utilities, administering cemetery space, building and overseeing public housing, regulating the use of the local resources, and other factors that make societies thrive. Without them, many local governments would struggle to keep up with the living standards of their populace, and communities would likely decline as a result. 

In many areas of the country, individual communities have their own particular circumstances that need to be addressed. Special districts are often used in these cases, stepping in to provide unique services for the unique conditions of their region. Areas prone to flash flooding, for example, may establish a special district specifically to combat this problem by providing monitoring and warning systems, or emergency relief efforts. Other areas may have particular requirements for the businesses there, such as large hospitals, which means their regulations must be held to a different standard than would be practical for most residential or commercial areas. 

The importance of special districts is a prime example of how multifaceted and specialized government can be. Contact us today to learn more and see how we can help you get the education you need to fulfill your goals!


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