The Role of Special Districts In Creating Green Regions

Of the 87,900 government units in the United States as of June 30, 2002, 35,356 are special purpose local government entities. 

According to the Census, special purpose entities are defined as 

[I]ndependent, special purpose government units (other than
school districts). They exist as separate entities, have substantial fiscal independence, and have administrative independence from general purpose governments or function for multiple governments.

The number of special purpose entities is the fastest growing government class, with the number of special district governments rising nearly three-fold, from 12,340 in 1952 to 35,356 in 2002. 

Many of these special purpose entities touch green building considerations in some way

Almost one-fifth of all special district governments perform a natural resources function, including such activities as drainage and flood control, irrigation, and soil and water conservation. The next most frequent function performed by such units is fire protection, followed by water supply, and housing and community development.

Despite the growth in power and importance of these special purpose entities, very little attention has been paid to how to "green" the functions under their authority. Moreover, there is clearly a great need to integrate the efforts of entities in charge of water, housing, development (not to mention transit agencies) with the overall efforts of traditional government units to incentivize green buildig practices.  Finally, as the census definition recognizes, these entities are often independent from traditional government entities with their own fiscal allocations.  Often their jurisdictions overlap (and are sometimes at odds with) traditional government entities.

If we can effectively harness the power of these special purpose entities to assist in the greening of our communities, it will be a great point of leverage.  Particularly where these entities form an intergovernmental function, there is an opportunity to create green regions, not just green communities. 

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Bomee - April 10, 2009 12:19 PM

Interesting - It's still not clear to me what exactly these special purpose government units are -- do they include BIDs? What about TIF areas set up for financing energy improvements?

Shari Shapiro - April 12, 2009 11:05 AM

Yes, special districts may include Business Improvement Districts if they are set up as quasi-governmental entities, especially if they have the power to levy a special task on the business owners or residents of a particular area. With respect to TIF areas, the answer is the same--the hallmark of a special district is 1) it is set up as a quasi-gvoernmental body by a traditional government entity, 2) it has a special purpose (water conservation, transit, etc.), 3) it has delegated power (taxing or rulemaking). Hope this helps and thanks for the comment!

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