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About Special Districts

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Special districts are public agencies created to provide one or more specific services to a community, such as water service, sewer service, parks, fire protection and others. California has nearly 3,300 special districts.

  • Dependent Special Districts. Sometimes the governing board of either a city or county will also serve as decision-makers for a special district. These kinds of special districts are called “dependent special districts.” About one-third of special districts are dependent.
  • Independent Special Districts. Other special districts operate under a locally elected, independent board of directors, which oversees district functions. These kinds of special districts are called “independent special districts.” About two-thirds of special districts are independent.

Most special districts perform a single function, such as water service, parks and recreation, fire protection, pest abatement or cemetery management. Other districts have multiple functions, such as community service districts. Some special districts provide services for residents in both cities and counties, while others provide services only for residents who live outside city boundaries in the unincorporated areas.

In California, cities must be located in one county, and city boundaries may not cross county lines. On the other hand, special districts may cross city and county boundaries. For example, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California serves residents in six different counties and most of the cities within those counties.

Special districts generate revenue from several sources including property taxes, special assessments, and fees.

  • Enterprise Special Districts. These agencies run much like business enterprises and provides specific benefits to their customers. They are primarily funded by fees paid by service recipients.
  • Non-Enterprise Special Districts.  These deliver services that provide general benefits to entire communities. They are primarily funded by property taxes.

Special districts join together to serve the interests of their residents through a variety of organizations, including the California Special District Association.

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