Student Post: Special Purpose Governments

Special districts, or also known as, “Single Purpose Governments” are local governments that exist to provide a single service. There are thousands of special districts all over the country. Many state governments do not even know how many special districts there are within the state. Special districts have the ability to levy taxes on residents and property owners. This is usually used as a property or sales tax. In 2012, there was $206 billion collected by special districts nationwide.

There are more than just one ways in which special districts are run and what they are allowed to do. One form is dependent and independent districts. Dependent districts are created by and responsible towards another local government and have either the same board members as the city council and county commission, the city or county is able to appoint members of the special district, they are able to remove members of the special district, or they are able to veto decisions made by the special district. However, independent special districts meet none of the criteria of a special district and are not responsible to any form of local government. These types of special districts will typically be found in unincorporated land.

Another type of special district is enterprise vs. non-enterprise districts. An enterprise district is a government that raises revenue like a business, there is a service fee and those more of the service will pay more. An example of this would be sewer districts that charge based on water usage. A non-enterprise district is a government that provides a general service and will raise revenue using taxes. This is usually used through a property or sales tax.

While special districts are not always corrupt and many do not violate the system, there are still many that do abuse the system due to the loopholes and lack of restrictions. An example of how the special district system has been abused is the supreme court case Ball vs James (1981). The Arizona company Salt River Improvement and Power District that controlled electricity and water to the Phoenix area. Only the landowners were allowed to vote on policies and their vote was only proportionate to the acreage owned. This gave a very limited voting percentage and proportion of people who were allowed to give their input. Having people who are able to buy a portion of land that is not government controlled who can abuse power can be dangerous and susceptible to abuse.

However, not all forms of special districts are abused. For instance, the special district in Litchfield, NH that is used for mosquito control only consists of two people who do not use the district to abuse power over the people in any way. Overall, special districts are something that should become more known to the American people since there are many who will live in a special district and not even know.

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