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Thirty-seven (37) states grant counties the authority to create and/or manage special districts to fund specific services (See Map 8). In 22 of the 37 states, counties must obtain voter approval to create a special district.


MAP 8.


COUNTY AUTHORITY OVER SPECIAL DISTRICTS AS OF NOVEMBER 2016


No Authority Over Special Districts


Authority Over Special Districts With Voter Approval


Authority Over Special Districts Without Voter Appeal


Note: Conn., R.I., and parts of Mass. have counties or county-equivalents with no county governments (marked in grey on the map).


Source: NACo interviews with state associations of counties and state and county officials in each of the 48 states with county governments, research of state statutes, tax codes and local government finance literature.


Most commonly, special-purpose districts levy a separate property tax from the county to fund specific services, which can be as narrow or as broad as state statutes allow. For instance, S.C. counties may create special districts for libraries, water treatment, hospital and medical care, elections and economic development. Texas special districts complement county services. For example, Texas counties provide indigent health care in areas without a hospital district. Of special note, more than 1,000 special districts in Idaho created through referenda finance highways, firefighting, ambulance services, sewer and libraries.


CONSTITUTIONAL OPTIONS: Alabama counties have largely avoided unfunded mandates because a 1998 amendment to the Ala. Constitution requires a two thirds approval of any such mandate by the state legislature; furthermore, the state cannot enforce the mandate until the next fiscal year.


These varied solutions are enabling counties to enhance service delivery in a cost effective manner. Shared service provisions foster an enduring lean efficiency by eliminating government redundancy. Legislative and constitutional actions are also bold options to deter the allure of state unfunded mandates on counties. Lastly, special districts are a widely available mechanism for funding specific services beyond the state imposed revenue limits. Counties are using a combination of these tools to mitigate fiscal pressures.


NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of COUNTIES | NOVEMBER 2016 COUNTY LINES, SPRING 2017 71 19


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