There are 38,266 special districts in the U.S., according to the latest Census tabulations. They are independent governmental units that exist separately from, and with substantial administrative and fiscal independence from, general-purpose local governments such as county, municipal, and township governments. As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, the term “special district governments” excludes school district.

Special districts perform many functions. They manage airports, water ports, highways, mass transit, systems, cemeteries and parking facilities. They provide fire protection, maintain water and sewer systems and even work to control mosquitoes.

Several kinds of special districts have grown at a fast pace based on the latest Census of Governments, says Steve Owens, who is Chief, Government Organization and Special Programs Branch, Governments Division at the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington. He says community development districts are a fast-growing form of special district. The Census Bureau, however, has not developed a formal definition for this kind of special district. Go here for more Census info on special districts.

Regarding community development districts, they essentially all operate the same way, says Owens. “You generally find them in suburban fringe areas, and they are formed to finance the infrastructure for mostly new housing developments. Occasionally you will see them being implemented for commercial development, but primarily it’s for new housing developments.”

In the process, says Owens, the developer buys the land, floats the bonds, and the residents, as they move in, are responsible for paying the bonds through their property taxes. The community development district, says Owens, sets up a special taxing district that facilitates a new development. “That’s where we have been seeing quite a bit of growth, especially in certain states with that kind of development setup in place,” says Owens. “Not every state has that mechanism, but states that do, we are seeing quite of growth there.” Community development districts do NOT include housing authorities, which are in a separate Census classification.

For government marketers, prospective vendors and citizens, there are some ways to locate community development districts in their area. In some states, the term “community development” is actually part of the district’s name, says Owens. He says community development districts are quite common in Florida, but they go under other names and designations. In Colorado, the term used is “metropolitan districts” to identify them. In Texas, the term used to identify them is “municipal utility districts.”

Examples of community development districts

Community development districts tend to be much smaller, as they are created to serve specific emerging residential, commercial, and industrial development projects. The top three in the community development category in 2011, based on U.S. Census data, are the following. Total district expenditures (for 2011) are shown next to each district name:

Community development district         Total district expenditures
Reedy Creek Improvement District                $260 Million
The Woodlands Township                                $78 Million
Village Center CDD                                            $55 Million
 
Reedy Creek was formed to develop Walt Disney World in Florida. The Woodlands Township was originally created as a municipal utility district in the Houston, Texas, area, and the Village Center Community Development District serves a sizeable commercial development in central Florida.

In this video, Census Bureau data dissemination specialists talk about how they reach out to their communities. The specialists show the public how to use tools such as Census Explorer, My Congressional District, QuickFacts and other government statistics sources that are located on the Census Bureau website.

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