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How Many Special Purpose Districts in Washington?

This page discusses the number of special purpose district local governments in Washington State, as counted by various sources.

It is part of MRSC's series on Special Purpose Districts in Washington.


The number of operating special purpose districts varies depending on the reference source and how the term "special purpose district" is defined. Statistics cited often include taxing units used for revenue collection purposes. Unless otherwise indicated, special purpose districts for this page are those with a designated, independent governing body.

The number of active districts changes from year to year and is dependent on accurate reporting from the special districts. There are also statutes for which no operating districts currently exist. Special districts can be categorized by type (name) of district as designated by statute based on the kind of service provided and by the general purpose of the district set out in the statutes.

Number of Special Purpose Districts in Washington

The total number of special purpose districts varies depending on the criteria used for the count. An accurate count of Washington special purpose districts is difficult to maintain. Districts become inactive, merge, officially change names, operate with DBA's (doing business as), and some dissolve. Each county auditor may have an accurate record, but there is no central collection point other than the State Auditor's office.

  • MRSC estimated that there were approximately 1,670 special purpose districts in Washington, including school districts, as of January 2012. This estimate only considers those districts that have independent governing bodies
  • Based on the Census Bureau's Census of Governments 2012 data, Washington had 1,580 special districts.

Data Sources

U.S. Census of Governments

Description. The U.S. Census Bureau conducts a Census of Governments of all state and local government organization units every five years, for years ending in 2 and 7, as required by law under Title 13, U.S. Code, Section 161. The data identifies the scope and nature of the nation's state and local governments; classifies local government organizations, powers, and activities; provide authoritative benchmark data on public finance and public employment; and measures state and local governments' fiscal relationships. The census of governments lists special districts for each state.

Issue with Classification of "Subordinate Agencies and Areas." The Census of Governments classifies a number of Washington special purpose districts with independent governing boards as "Subordinate Agencies and Areas" of the state or county. They include: county airport districts governed by county commissioners, county park and recreation service areas, county public transportation authorities, county rail districts, cultural arts, stadium, and convention districts, drainage, diking, or sewerage improvement districts -1913, emergency medical service districts, emergency service communication districts, flood control districts—1935 act, flood control zone districts, health districts, intercounty weed districts, library capital facility areas, service districts (for bridge and road improvements), solid waste disposal districts—1982 law, television reception improvement districts, transportation benefit districts, unincorporated transportation benefit areas, weed control districts, community renewal agencies (formerly urban renewal agencies), flood control districts—1935 act, transportation benefit districts, urban emergency medical service districts.

See Washington in Description by State of How Governments are Organized, MRSC has included many of the "subordinate agencies" in its count. See next paragraph for an explanation.

Inclusion of "Subordinate Agencies and Areas." Washington statutes define many of these districts as quasi-municipal corporations and designate the governing body to be the county legislative body acting ex officio. The ex officio governing body of the districts convene as the governing body of the special purpose district and keep the legislation separate. If the governing body appears to be independent, as in the latter case, MRSC has included them in the total number of special districts. This accounts for the difference in totals between the Census of Government data and those MRSC lists.

List of Washington Special Governments. The Census of Governments offers downloadable files with contact information for each local government in the United States, including special districts. See Governments Integrated Directory (GID), with Reference Information.

Washington State Auditor

Every local government is required to prepare an annual financial report and provide a copy to the state auditor. Current audit policy requires the conduct of certain audits, including audit assessments, of local governments every two years. The state auditor maintains a list of all local government entities for audit purposes. RCW 36.96.090 requires the county auditor to provide the state auditor with information about newly created districts. The State Auditor's Office assigns a unique identifying number to each entity.

Two reference sources of value are:

  • Find Your Audit Team – A search by entity provides auditor assignments for special districts, which may help helps determine whether a district is still active.
  • Audit Reports – The audit reports for special districts contain a brief paragraph on the history of the district.

Department of Revenue List of Taxing Districts

Washington State Department of Revenue provides information on the tax code areas for each county and property tax levies of special purpose districts. The Tax Code Area Statement is useful for determining overlapping city and special taxing district tax boundaries and whether a taxing district's boundaries are countywide. The department also has GIS maps.

Not all special districts are taxing districts. Not all taxing districts are special districts. The number of taxing districts (RCW 84.04.120), as reported by the Department of Revenue (DOR), has often been used to assess trends in the growth of governmental units. DOR includes only those districts that levy regular property taxes. The taxing districts may remain a tax code area until the department is formally notified of the district's dissolutions.

County Information

Auditors Election Information. Election information shows active districts. An election is required to create many types of special districts. The Secretary of State provides a list of links to the County Elections Departments in Washington State. Many of the counties provide a list of elected officials on their pages which include special districts. Some are separate information lists, others are lists of Offices Open for Election.

Assessors Tax Information. Most county assessors post information about tax levies in a publication often titled Annual Report, some are listed as Levy Rates. Special districts with property taxes are listed.

GIS Information. Some counties provide maps that include special districts.

Special Purpose Districts Information. Some special purpose districts have websites that provide information on district boundaries, maps, service areas, customer base, and governing documents.

Last Modified: September 04, 2023