US Census data on Special Districts helps explain why your taxes are so high
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
The U.S. has continued to add additional layers of local government, even though industry trade group Community Associations Institute (CAI) estimates there are more than 340,000 association-governed communities now in existence. Ironically, when CAI was established in 1973, the claim was that planned communities organized as HOAs were supposed to reduce the need for local government services.
Check out this map for an overview:
Here are some informative links to statistical tables for U.S. Census of Governments:
Total number of U.S. governments at all levels, 1942 – 2012
Notice that the total number of units of government at all levels – federal, state, and local – has decreased dramatically nationwide since 1942, from 155,116 to 90,107.
However, in some states, the number of government units has increased significantly. For example, in Florida, the number of governments more than tripled from 503 to 1,651 over the same 70-year period.
Note that mandatory homeowners, condominium, and cooperative associations are NOT counted as units of government. In fact, the Census has no method to systematically count and track the status of HOAs.
Florida has an estimated 47,200 mandatory association-governed communities as of 2015, more than any other state, according to CAI.
So, clearly, creating of HOAs has not curbed the growth of the government sector in the Sunshine State, has it?
Some other Census data on states that have increased units of government, with the estimated number of HOAs according to CAI in parentheses.
Alabama – 511 to 1,209 (between 2,000-3,000)
Arizona – 499 to 675 (9,400)
California – 4,149 to 4,426 (44,900)
Colorado – 2,358 to 2,906 (9,200)
Connecticut – 349 to 644 (4,800)
Delaware – 70 to 340 (between 1,000 – 2,000)
Florida – 503 to 1,651 (47,200)
Georgia – 946 to 1,379 (10,300)
Massachusetts – 409 to 858 (12,200)
New Mexico – 225 to 864 (between 1,000 – 2,000)
North Carolina – 603 to 974 (13,800)
Tennessee – 328 to 917 (4,750)
Utah – 303 to 623 (3,320)
Vermont – 398 to 739 (between 1,000 – 2,000)
Virginia – 323 to 519 (8,500)
(Source for HOA statistics, Community Associations Institute: https://www.caionline.org/PressReleases/Documents/2015_StatsReview.pdf)
It’s quite easy to see that as HOAs have been added in fast-growing metropolitans areas of the states listed, so, too, have additional layers of local government.
Now let’s delve a bit deeper to find out what kind of local governments were added, each one of them creating a separate tax obligation on residents, especially property owners.
Total number of subcounty General Purpose Governments
General Purpose Governments are municipal governments: cities, towns, townships, boroughs, villages, parishes, etc. There are some small increases for individual states, but nationwide, there has only been a slight increase in the establishment of new General Purpose Governments – from 35,139 in 1942 to 35,879 in 2012.
School Districts in the US
Note that since 1942, the number of school districts has declined…from 108,579 in 1942 to 12,880 in 2012. Quite a dramatic drop, wouldn’t you say? Yes, the country moved away from local neighborhood schools to a system of public education after World War II. And planned communities did not become the norm for new construction until the 197os. But even in 1977, there were more far more school districts than in 2012 – 15,174.
Special District Governments
Bingo! The number of Special District Governments has increased almost five-fold (nearly 22%) since 1942. Here are the statistics for number of Special District Governments, according to Census data.
1942 – 8,299
1972 – 23,885 (the year prior to establishment of CAI)
1977- 25,962 (Federal government starts to insure mortgages of HOA, condo association homes)
2012 – 38,266
And what are the functions do Special District Governments? The following table breaks that down into further detail.
Special District Governments by Function and State: 2012 – United States — States more information
2012 Census of Governments
(Note: Take out the magnifying glass, because this table is so large, it spans two screens on most mobile and desktop devices.)
It turns out that nearly 24,000 of more than 38,000 Special Districts have been established to fund and/or regulate many of the most important public functions that have been systematically dumped onto HOAs -or otherwise privatized – over the past 40-50 years: drainage and flood control, conservation, solid waste management, parks and recreation, supply of drinking water, sanitary sewage treatment, and housing development.
Environmental and housing districts – 14,577
Utility district – 4,115
Multifunction Special Districts – 5,235
And readers of daily articles that appear on this website will note that there is an endless stream of reports of mandatory association governed, common interest communities struggling to provide some or all of these functions with almost no administrative support, and very little financial assistance from local government at any level.
It is a safe bet that many of these special districts have been created for the supposed purpose of oversight of private property owners, including HOAs. Unfortunately, many of the regulatory districts are underfunded and understaffed. So they often fail to provide meaningful protection for either environmental resources or the people who reside in these districts.
Others Special Districts, especially development districts or improvement districts, have been created so that real estate developers can gain access to financial capital through the sale of bonds, creating future tax debt for new home buyers. That offsets quite a bit of risk for developers and local governments, shifting it directly to the property owners who buy into these tax districts. Those homeowners have to pay property taxes to multiple layers of local government, including Special Districts, many times in addition to their HOA, POA, and Condo association fees.