What is an "Independent Special District"?

WHAT ARE INDEPENDENT SPECIAL DISTRICTS?
Special districts are a form of local government created by a local community to meet a specific 
need. Inadequate tax bases and competing demands for existing taxes make it hard for cities and 
counties to provide all the services their citizens desire. When residents or landowners want new 
services or higher levels of existing services, they can form a district to pay for and administer  
them.
 
 
WHAT DO THEY DO?
Nearly 85% of California's special districts perform a single function such as sewage, water, fire 
protection, pest abatement or cemetery management. Multi-function districts, like community 
services districts, provide two or more services. Other types of services provided by independent 
special districts include police protection, parks and recreation, libraries, irrigation, 
reclamation, harbor, transit, and healthcare, among  others.
 
 
HOW DO THEY OPERATE?
There are approximately 2,300 independent special districts in California, meaning they are 
governed by an independent board of directors elected by the districts' voters or appointed to a 
fixed term of office by either the city council or board of supervisors. Dependent districts are 
governed by other existing legislative bodies like a city council or board of supervisors.
 
Larger independent districts have a professional manager, similar to a city manager or county 
administrator, to assist the governing officials.  The governing boards adopt policies that the 
general managers carry  out.
 
 
HOW ARE THEY FUNDED?
Just over a quarter of California's independent special districts are enterprise districts. 
Enterprise districts operate more like a business enterprise, charging customers for their 
services. For example, a hospital district charges room fees just to their patients, not the 
district's other residents. Water districts charge water rates to their customers.  Virtually all 
water, waste and hospital districts are enterprise  districts.
 
Non-enterprise districts provide services that don't lend themselves to fees because they benefit 
the entire community, not just certain residents. These districts provide services like parks, 
police and fire protection, pest abatement, libraries, and cemeteries and rely overwhelmingly on 
property taxes to fund their operating budgets. Although some non-enterprise districts like parks 
and libraries may charge fees for some services, these fees generate very little revenue. 
Additionally, both enterprise and non-enterprise districts can issue either general obligation or 
revenue bonds to help pay for capital improvements.
 
 
ACCOUNTABILITY
Special districts are primarily accountable to the voters who elect their boards of directors and 
the customers who use their services. However, although they are not functions of the state, the 
state also provides critical oversight to special district operations. Special districts must 
submit annual financial reports to the State Control­ ler and must also follow state laws 
pertaining to public meetings, bonded debt, record keeping and  elections.
 
 
The California Special District Association (CSDA) was formed in 1969 to ensure continued success 
of local, independent special distri cts. It provides advocacy, training, information and financial 
services that help strengthen and increase the efficiency of special district operations. Only by 
working together can special districts fight additional property tax grabs and help shape policies 
that protect local  control.
 
Learn more about Special Districts at www.districtsmakeadifference.org