Special districts are local governments created by the people of a community to deliver specialized services essential to their health, safety, economy and well-being. Communities form special districts, which are political subdivisions authorized through a state’s statutes, to provide specialized services that the local city or county does not provide.
According to U.S. Census figures, more than 30,000 special districts provide a wide array of specialized services to millions of Americans. Some special districts are large; many are very small, all serving diverse urban, suburban, rural and agricultural regions of the country - even within incorporated areas.
Scientists, firefighters, engineers, health care professionals, water and environmental experts, and many other specialists provide special district services. Their expertise allows districts to respond to a rapidly changing world and to new technologies quickly. Due to the specialized nature of their services, special districts must maintain their critical infrastructures and evolve with state-of-the art tools of their trade – whether it be a new, more effective water delivery system, firefighting equipment, transit system, lighting, or sanitation or other service delivery.
Ventura County Special Districts Association (VCSDA) has represented independent special districts located in Ventura County sincd 1974, where some of these districts have served their communities for many decades.
What Is An Independent Special District? (Independent versus Dependent Districts)
Nearly two-thirds of California's special districts are independent districts. Indepedent districts have their own separate governing boards elected by voting residents living within the district boundaries. Independent districts also include districts where appointed boards of directors serve for fixed terms. Cemetery districts are independent districts because county boards of supervisors appoint residents who serve on the district's board of trustees to fixed four-year terms. Independent special districts include library districts, memorial districts, mosquito abatement districts, water, port, harbor, health care recreation & park, and resource conservation districts, to name just a few.
Dependent districts are governed by other existing legislative bodies (either a city council or a county board of supervisors). All County Service Areas, for example, are dependent districts because their county boards of supervisors govern them. Although recreation and park districts can be independent, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors is the ex officio governing board for the Yucca Valley Recreation and Park Districts, making it a dependent district. Because the Oceanside City Council also serves as the board of directors for the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor District (San Diego Couonty), that District is a dependent special district.
In Brief...Special Districts Are:
- Community; a grassroots government in its simplest form since 1918
- Formed by local residents to provide specific local services
- Generally single purpose in nature
- Governed by a publicly elected Board of Directors who make policy decisions
- Directly responsible to the communities it serves
- Projects and services responsive to local need
- Has trained, professional and specialty staff
- Deploys specific funds authorized by vote of the people
- Enabling language offered by legislation and authored by the California Government Code
California Special Districts Association booklet: "What's So Special About Special Districts"