The state legislature provides authority and specifies general procedures for the formation and dissolution of special districts. This page summarizes the statutory provisions. The relevant statutes should be consulted. See also Special Purpose Districts Overview - A chart providing name of district, classification, date of legislation and citation, the purpose of the district, method of formation, governance, funding, and estimated number of existing districts.
Overview of Special District Formation
- The majority of special purpose district governments in Washington State are formed by a resolution of the county legislative authority or by a petition to the county legislative authority.
- Almost all formations require a formal hearing to determine the need for the district, and, in some instances, a feasibility study is required, such as for diking districts, irrigation districts, and park and recreation service areas.
- The formation of a district generally requires an election to determine whether the majority of residents or landowners wish to form a district and pay taxes to receive the service. A few districts are formed after a hearing without an election.
- Some regular levies, all excess levies, and bond levies must to be authorized by voters of the district.
- The Washington Sunrise Act, Ch. 43.133 RCW, has provisions to review the impact of legislation to create new special districts.
- Under WAC 197-11-800(16), the formation of a special purpose district is categorically exempt from the requirements of SEPA.
- New districts are to be reported to the state auditor by the county auditor.
Overview of Special District Dissolution and Suspended Operations
- There are several statutes that relate to dissolution procedures for special purpose districts.
- Certain districts may suspend operations
- There are also dissolution procedures in specific statutes that pertain to individual special districts. Some are listed here. The majority refer to Ch. 36.96 RCW or Ch. 53.48 RCW for dissolution procedures.
- Once every year the county auditor is to notify the county legislative body of any districts that appear inactive
Methods for Forming Special Purpose Districts
Petition, Resolution, or Other Method - Election Required
The following special districts may be initiated by a petition of voters or property owners or by a resolution of the legislative authorities, depending on the specific statutory requirements, and followed by an election. Additional resources on the formation of specific districts is noted. For district enabling statutes, see Types of Special Purpose Districts in Washington State.
Petition - No Election Required
The following districts can be formed by petition to the legislative body depending on statutes. In some instances legislative body may also initiate formation of district. The legislative body may form the district without an election:
- Air pollution control authorities - Also by motion by county legislative body
- Community Facilities District (independently governed, special purpose district vested with the corporate authority included under Article VII, section 9 of the state consitution)
- Flood control zones - Can also be formed by action of the county legislative body
- Public housing authorities - Also by resolution of legislative body
- Public transportation benefit areas
- School Districts - Also motion of school district, may require election under certain conditions
- Television reception improvement districts
- Weed districts - Includes inter-county regular weed districts
Resolution, Ordinance, or Motion - No Election Required
The following special districts can be formed by action of a city or county legislative body without an election. These include several districts formed by interlocal agreements:
Dissolution of Special Purpose Districts
There are several statutes that relate to dissolution procedures for special purpose districts.
- Ch. 36.96 RCW - Dissolution of inactive special purpose districts - Every municipal and quasi-municipal corporation other than counties, cities, and towns - Such special purpose districts shall include, but are not limited to, water-sewer districts, fire protection districts, port districts, public utility districts, county park and recreation service areas, flood control zone districts, diking districts, drainage improvement districts, and solid waste collection districts, but shall not include industrial development districts created by port districts, and shall not include local improvement districts, utility local improvement districts, and road improvement districts.
- Ch. 53.48 RCW - Dissolution of port and other districts - All municipal and quasi-municipal corporations having a governing body, other than cities, towns, counties, and townships, such as port districts, school districts, water-sewer districts, fire protection districts, and all other special districts of similar organization, but shall not include local improvement districts, diking, drainage and irrigation districts, special districts as defined in RCW 85.38.010, nor public utility districts.
- Ch. 57.90 RCW - Disincorporation of districts in counties with 200,000 population or more and inactive for five years
There are also dissolution procedures in specific statutes that pertain to individual special districts. Some are listed here. The majority refer to Ch. 36.96 RCW or Ch. 53.48 RCW for dissolution procedures.
Inactive Districts - Notification of County Legislative Authority
Before June 1st of each year, the county auditor is to search available records and notify the county legislative authority of any special purpose districts in the county that appear to be inactive and those that have failed to file statements for three years with the county auditor (RCW 36.96.020). The county legislative authority holds hearings and makes written findings as to whether the special purpose districts meets the criteria of being "inactive." The county legislative authority then adopts an ordinance dissolving the special purpose district and provides a copy of the ordinance to the county treasurer. Public utility districts have a different procedure.
Suspended Operations for Certain Districts
RCW 85.38.220 provides that any special district may have its operations suspended or reactivated as provided in this section. "Special district" is defined in RCW 85.38.010 as: (a) a diking district; (b) a drainage district; (c) a diking, drainage, and/or sewerage improvement district; (d) an intercounty diking and drainage district; (e) a consolidated diking district, drainage district, diking improvement district, and/or drainage improvement district; or (f) a flood control district.