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National Definition of Special Districts

Special districts are community-based and locally organized political subdivisions of a state formed by a community to provide specialized public service(s) that other forms of governments do not. Despite the important role special districts play in the daily lives of millions of Americans in providing a variety of essential services, including critical infrastructure, “special district” is not adequately defined in U.S. Code. The top priority for the Coalition is to define “special district” in federal law to ensure special purpose governments have clear access to applicable federal programs. NSDC will continue to collaborate with special purpose government stakeholders across the country to ensure all independent, permanently established special district governments are adequately reflected in the definition.

Defining “Special District” 

NSDC collaborates with members of Congress to pass legislation defining special purpose units of government. NSDC also actively seeks input from special district stakeholders to ensure this definition broadly represents special districts’ diverse structures and organizations across state lines.

A special district is an independent political subdivision of a State, formed pursuant to general law or special act of the State, for the purpose of performing one or more governmental or proprietary functions. Aside from “special district,” these local governments may also be known as “special purpose district,” “authority,” “municipal authority,” “special purpose governmental entity,” or “special taxing district.”

Preserving Locally Led Services 

NSDC advocates favor legislation fostering special districts’ access to resources and supporting their operations that would strengthen the communities they serve. Likewise, the Coalition opposes policies that would degrade the value of districts’ services to their communities or create obstacles for community-formed governments to operate effectively, govern efficiently, exist, and preserve local control.

Special districts are the most local of local governments, established by the will of a community and led by locally elected or locally-appointed boards that answer to a constituency. NSDC supports a healthy legislative and regulatory environment that facilitates robust, local public services. In doing so, the Coalition seeks to preserve local control of public services and prevent privatization, which leads to community disenfranchisement over its collective services.

Collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau 

The U.S. Census Bureau is the clearinghouse of information on state and local government organizations, and routinely measures the American population and local government services. Through efforts to define “special district” in federal law, NSDC is a willing partner and collaborator with the U.S. Census Bureau to ensure the nation’s special purpose governments are accurately counted in represented in local government data. The Coalition seeks to work with the U.S. Census Bureau and Office of Management and Budget adopt definitions of individual district services to improve federal accounting of local governments. NSDC’s ultimate objective is to secure special districts’ designation as a geographic unit of local government, which would allow for special districts to obtain official population figures.

 

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