07 May 2008

Colorado's Special District Bloat

The Census of Local Governments is taken every five years. Complete data is available from 2002, while preliminary data is available from 2007.

In both time periods, the federal government identified 62 Colorado counties and 270 Colorado municipalities. The number of school districts (including community college districts) fell from 182 to 180. But, the number of special districts of other types increased from 1414 (in 2002) to 1904 (in 2007), a raw increase of 490 special districts (35%) in just five years.

Between 2002 and 2007, Colorado created almost as many new special districts as the number of counties, municipalities and school districts in the state combined. New local governments were created at a rate of about 8-9 per month. Most special districts provide an isolated municipal service, like fire protection, a library, or water and sewer service in a small geographic area, supported by property taxes, with an elected or appointed board of directors. Many are set up by real estate developers in coordination with county government in recognition of the need for urban services, while seeking to avoid the liabilities of an independent police department, the constitutional protections associated with typical governmental entities and the land use regulation that comes with a conventional municipality. Often multiple special districts are needed to provide different services to the same people.

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