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The Perennial Question: How Many Special Purpose Districts in Washington State?

October 31, 2013 

Category:  Special Districts

The Perennial Question: How Many Special Purpose Districts in Washington State?

How many special purpose districts are there in Washington? Depending who you ask, there are different answers. Whether the numbers are correct is difficult to assess. This is partly due to the fact that our state does not have a uniform definition for a special purpose district. Each agency has its own list. The districts are somewhat elusive – in a single year, new districts are created; some become inactive, merge, change names; and some dissolve. We can really only “best guess” how many active districts there are – and I won’t make my next count until after the November elections.

Because there is a lot of discussion about trends in the growth of special districts in our state, I decided to count recent (January 2010 to present) new, merged, and annexed special purpose districts. I included districts approved by voters and special districts created by legislative bodies without an election. Also included are mergers, consolidations, and dissolutions.

Park Districts. Eight park district measures were put before the voters between April 2010 and October 2013; six passed and two failed. Two more are on the November 2013 ballot. New districts are: Chuckanut Community Forest Metropolitan Park District, Jefferson County Park and Recreation District 2, Mount Adams Park and Recreation District, Shelton Metropolitan Park District, Tukwila Pool Metropolitan Park District, and Village Green Metropolitan Park District. The measures that failed were metropolitan park districts for Vancouver and Bonney Lake. The two measures on the November 2013 ballot are Jefferson County Park and Recreation Districts 3 and 4. Some of these districts have been created to fund a specific recreational facility. Kirkland annexed Finn Hill Park and Recreation District in June 2011.

Public Hospital District. In November 2012, voters in the area of the Tekoa School District voted to form the Whitman County Public Hospital District 4 (Tekoa Hospital District). The district was formed to assure the provision of health care in the Tekoa area and the long term viability of the Tekoa Medical Clinic.

Library Districts. Two library related districts were formed: Skagit County Partial County Rural Library District and Camano Island Library Capital Facility Area to build a new library in the Sno-Isle system.

Library Annexation. In a four-year period, eight cities annexed to a library district. Chewelah annexed to the Stevens County Library District. Enumclaw and Renton annexed to the King County Library. Hoquiam, Morton, and Shelton annexed to the Timberland Regional Library. Langley annexed to the Sno-Isle Regional Library. Lamont annexed to the Whitman County Library District. Port Orchard annexed to the Kitsap Regional Library. Toledo residents will vote on annexation to the Timberland Regional Library at the November 2013 election.

Mosquito Control. Residents of Waterville approved the formation of the Waterville Mosquito Control District.

Fire Protection Services. A number of fire service providers have been exploring joining together through an annexation, merger, functional consolidation, or through the creation of a regional fire protection service area. The following were successful.

Regional Fire Authorities (RFPSA). Kent Fire Department Regional Fire Authority (Kent and FPD 37, which includes Covington) and the South East Thurston Fire Authority (Yelm, Thurston County FPD 2, and FPD 4 (includes Rainier)). Voters of Mason County Fire Protection Districts 2 and 8 will vote on a measure to create the North Mason Regional Fire Authority in November.

Mergers. In February 2011, Pierce County Fire District 2 voted to merge into Pierce County Fire District 3. The name of the district was changed to West Pierce Fire and Rescue.

Functional Consolidations. A number of cities and fire districts share services through functional consolidation agreements. In 2011 North Whatcom Fire and Rescue completed a functional consolidation with Whatcom County Fire District 4. Woodland and Clark County Fire and Rescue consolidated services in March 2013.

City Annexation. Six cities approved measures to annex to fire districts. Enumclaw joined King County FPD 28. Voters approved annexation measures for Leavenworth into Chelan County FPD 3, Lyman into Skagit County FPD 8, Marcus into Stevens County FPD 6, and Milton into East Pierce Fire & Rescue.

Dissolutions. It is assumed that when a regional fire protection service area (RFPSA) is formed that the fire districts included dissolve. We have only seen a few dissolution elections. In 2012 voters of Lewis County Fire District 12 approved the dissolution of the district, which became part of Riverside Fire Authority in 2007. Kirkland annexed King County Fire District 41, effective June 2011.

Sewer District Annexation. In November 2012, the city of Lake Stevens and the Lake Stevens Sewer District approved annexation of the city into the Lake Stevens Sewer District.

Port Districts. Two measures to create new port districts failed in November 2011: Port of Bainbridge and Port of Winlock.

Non-Voted Districts. The following are measures passed by the legislative bodies authorized to create certain districts and did not require an election.

Transportation Benefit Districts (TBD). The total number of TBD’s noted by MRSC to date is 55; 43 were created between the beginning of 2010 and now: seven in 2010, 12 in 2011, 19 in 2012, and thus far five in 2013.

Public Facilities Districts (PFD). Tri Cities Regional Public Facilities District was formed by interlocal contracts in August 2010. Asotin County formed a PFD in June 2013 to fund and operate the Asotin County Family Aquatic Center.

Flood Control Zone Districts. Two flood control zone districts were created in 2012: Pierce County Flood Control Zone District and Kittitas County Flood Control Zone District.
Irrigation District. The Walla Walla County Council created the Braden Road Irrigation District 20 in July 2012.

Solid Waste Disposal. Lopez Islanders urged the county to form the Lopez Solid Waste Disposal District to solve a funding problem for disposing of solid waste on the island. San Juan County created the district in June 2012.

The Count and Bottom Line? From January 2010 to date, 59 new special purpose districts were created and there were seven dissolutions. Thus, the total count for this time period is an additional 52 districts in Washington.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.


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