The Mission of the
Utah Association of Special Districts
- Promote the proper and efficient operation of all Special Districts (17B) and Special Service Districts (17D) in the State of Utah.
- Assist Districts in fulfilling their respective Missions in an effective manner.
- Help government and public officials better understand why Districts are organized.
- Promote District awareness.
- Provide training to District board members, management and staff.
- Provide legislative input and advocacy for Districts.
- Provide updates of current laws and regulations that apply to District governance and operations.
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Granger Hunter Improvement District
History of Districts in Utah
In 1790, the first district was formed in the United States of America for the purpose of providing prison services. In 1898, Utah’s first district for library services was formed. As we know them today, the first district in Utah was formed as a drainage district sometime before statehood. Since 1913, the Utah Code has continuously carried specific authorization for the formation of districts.
According to the State Auditor, there are 400 local and special service districts operating in Utah. Approximately one-third are designated as “special service districts” and two-thirds are designated as “local districts”. The distinction will be explained shortly.
After statehood, the following types of districts were created by the Utah Legislature in the corresponding years:
- Drainage Districts 1913
- Irrigation Districts 1919
- Metropolitan Water Districts 1935
- Water Conservancy Districts 1941
- Cemetery Maintenance Districts 1945
- Improvement Districts pre-1949
- Fire Protection Districts 1951
- Mosquito Abatement Districts 1953
- Service Areas 1957
- Public Transit Districts 1969
- Special Service Districts 1975
In 1990, the State Legislature created Title 17A of the Utah Code and consolidated much of state law regarding districts into that title. At that time, the term ”Special District” was defined by the Legislature to refer to all of the taxing entities that were brought together under Title 17A and became a generic term intended to refer to all of the district types that fell under that title of the statute. Chapter 1 of Title 17A, contained general provisions that were applicable to special districts (often including special service districts), while Chapter 2 of the Code primarily consisted of Acts governing each particular type of independent special district.
In the 1990’s, the Legislature began a long process of recodifying those sections of the Utah code dealing with Districts. In 2007, the legislature embarked on a massive recodification effort to complete the process. The adoption of H.B. 65 in 2007 repealed Chapter 1 and the bulk of Chapter 2 of Title 17A and the remainder of Title 17A was repealed in 2008 and 2009. UASD worked cooperatively with the Legislature and its staff throughout this lengthy process.
H.B. 65 also created Title 17B Chapters 1 and 2a of the Utah Code. In these sections, uniform definitions were adopted along with uniform provisions governing such things as the appointment and election of local district boards, the powers of those boards, the naming of local districts, long range planning, releasing liens, retaining architects and engineers, nepotism restrictions, a preference for recycled goods, the adoption of impact fee resolutions, publishing district information in local telephone directories, local district property tax parity, validation of previously created districts and the exemption of local district property and assets from taxation. Although renumbered and amended, many of these provisions were carried over from the law in effect prior to H.B. 65.
The term “Special District” was eliminated by H.B. 65, primarily due to confusion over the difference between a “special district” and a “special service district”. The new generic term for all entities that fall under the Title 17B of the Utah Code is “local district”.
The only type of district in Utah that is not a “local district” is a “special service district”. Title 17D Chapter 1 of the Utah Code was created to deal with the creation and administration of special service districts and is known as the “Special Service District Act”.
Through the recodification process, uniform provisions were adopted, to the extent uniformity was possible, in place of corresponding provisions in the various individual Acts of former Title 17A Chapter 2. To the extent uniformity was not feasible, the various Acts were renumbered and, to some degree, amended. H.B. 65 was intended to clean up provisions scattered throughout the Utah Code that used the phrase “special districts” or included a reference to a now repealed or renumbered section of the Code.
Local Districts are independent governmental entities that may be created by cities or counties to provide the following services:
- Airport Operations
- Cemetery Operations
- Fire Protection, Paramedic and Emergency Services
- Garbage Collection and Disposal
- Health Care (including health department or hospital service)
- Library Operations
- Mosquito Abatement and Control
- Municipal Services
- Parks Operations, Recreational Facilities and Services
- Sewage System Operations
- Street Lighting
- Right-of-way Construction and Maintenance
- Transportation (including public transit, streets and roads)
- Water Systems Operations
- Acquisition or Assessment of a Groundwater Right
- Law Enforcement Services
- Control or Abatement of Earth Movement or Landslide
- Animal Control Services
Within Title 17B, the Utah Code contemplates the following eleven types of local districts:
- Basic Local Districts – 17B-1-1401
- Cemetery Maintenance Districts - 17B-2a-101
- Drainage Districts - 17B-2a-201
- Fire Protection Districts - 17B-2a-301
- Improvement Districts - 17B-2a-401
- Irrigation Districts - 17B-2a-501
- Metropolitan Water Districts - 17B-2a-601
- Mosquito Abatement Districts - 17B-2a-701
- Public Transit Districts - 17B-2a-801
- Service Areas - 17B-2a-901
- Water Conservancy Districts - 17B-2a-1001
Any one of the ten historic district types listed above (numbers 2-11) may be created, or a basic local district (number 1) might be formed. A local district may be formed to provide up to four of the services listed above. The area of any local district does not have to be contiguous.
Each of the historic district types is governed by the uniform statutory provisions in addition to remnants of the original Act for the specific district type, as recodified. Some of the reconstituted Acts have very little left in them, in which case the uniform provisions control most of the activities of the district. For other district types, such as drainage districts, irrigation districts, water conservancy districts and, in particular, public transit districts, there are many remaining statutory provisions that apply just to that district type.
Special Service Districts
A Special Service District created under Title 17D is a hybrid entity in that it is an independent governmental entity, except when it comes to the levy of taxes or assessments, the issuance of debt, or the holding of an election. Those actions must be approved by the governmental entity that created the special service district. In reality, special service districts are still ultimately under the control of their creating entities.
A special service district may be created by a city or a county to provide any combination of the following services:
- Flood Control
- Garbage Collection and Disposal
- Health Care
- Fire Protection (includes emergency medical services, ambulance, search and rescue)
- Correctional and Rehabilitation Facilities
- Consolidated 911 and Emergency Dispatch
- Animal Shelter and Control
- Receipt of Federal Mineral Lease Funds to Mitigate Impacts from Mining
- Extended Police Protection (in counties of the first class)
- Control or Abatement of Earth Movement or Landslide
Districts in Utah are also subject to a variety of other Utah laws. Some of the specific provisions under the Code that apply to districts are as follows:
HistoricPropertyProtection (indirectly through state approvals)
– Section 9-8-404
- Interlocal Cooperation Act – Section 11-13-101 et. seq.
- Local Government Bonding Act – Sections 11-14-101 and 17B-1-1101 et. seq.
- Utah Refunding Bond Act – Section 11-27-1 et. seq.
- Utah Bond Validation Act – Section 11-30-1 et. seq.
- Utah Public Finance Act – Section 11-31-1 et. seq.
- Impact Fees Act – Section 11-36a-101 et. seq.
- Bidding Requirements for Building Improvements and Public Works – Section 11-39-101 et. seq.
- Criminal Background Checks by Political Subdivisions Operating Water Systems – Section 11-40-101 et. seq.
- Assessment Area Act – Section 11-42-101 et. seq.
- Fiscal Procedures for Local Districts Act – Section 17B-1-601 et. seq.
- Board Member Training Requirements – Section 17B-1-312
- Personnel Management – Section 17B-1-801 et. seq.
- Statutory Limits on Taxing and Bonding – Sections 17B-1-1002 and - 1102(4)
- “EX” License Plate Use – Section 41-1a-407.
- Accounting Reports from Political Subdivisions, Interlocal Organizations, and other Local Entities Act – Section 51-2a-101 et. seq.
- Deposit of Funds Due State – Section 51-4-1 et. seq.
- State Money Management Act – Section 51-7-1 et. seq.
- Anti-Nepotism – Section 52-3-1 et. seq.
- Open and Public Meetings Act – Section 52-4-101 et. seq.
- Reimbursement of Legal Fees and Costs to Officers and Employees Act – Section 52-6-101 et. seq.
- Reports and Notices – Section 52-8-101 et. seq.\
- Property Tax Act (Title 59, Chapter 2, of the Utah Code) particularly Truth in Taxation Requirements – Section 59-2-919 et. seq.
- GRAMA (Government Records Ac- cess and Management Act) – Section 63G-2-101 et. seq.
- Utah Procurement Code – most provi- sions – Section 63G-6-101 et. seq.
- Governmental Immunity Act of Utah – Section 63G-7-101 et. seq.
- Identity Documents and Verification – Section 63G-12-302, 401, 402
- Constitutional Takings Issues Act – Section 63L-4-101 et. seq.
- Utah Public Officers’ and Employees’ Ethics Act – Section 67-16-1 et. seq.
- Criminal Offenses Against the Administration of Justice – Section 76-8-101 et. seq.
How Districts are Created
Special Districts (17B) and Special Service Districts (17D) can only be created by cities or counties. The process is initiated either by the cities or counties themselves by resolution, or by petition from a group of citizens.
For special districts, a citizen petition to create must be signed by:
- 33% of the private property owners within the proposed district whose property values total at least 25% of the value of all private real property within the proposed district; or
- 33% of the voters within the proposed district who voted in the last general election for Governor.
(A local district can also be created by resolution of the Board of another local district as long as the proposed district is being created to provide one or more components of the same service that the creating district is authorized to provide, but which they are not currently providing.)
Except when a petition is signed by two thirds of voters, the final step in creating a local district culminates in an election wherein a majority of voters approve the creation.
The resolution or petition to create a special district must contain a description of the proposed boundaries of the district, a map that shows those boundaries, a description of the services to be provided, the type of local district to be created, the anticipated method of paying the costs of providing the service(s), and the number of board members for the proposed district.
If the special district being created is a basic local district, the petition must also state whether the board members will be appointed or elected, and if one or more board members will be elected, the basis of the election, and, if applicable, how the election or appointment of board members will transition over time from one method to another.
In the process of creating a local district, if owners of at least 25% of the total private land area with value equal to at least 15% of the total value of all real private property in the proposed district protest the creation, then the cities and/or counties involved in the creation must cease the process of creation. In such cases, the process can begin again after a two year period.
Special Service Districts
For a special service district, a citizen petition to create must be signed by:
- property owners within the proposed district whose property values total at least 10% of the taxable value of all taxable property within the proposed special service district; or
- at least 10% of the registered voters within the proposed special service district.
The resolution or petition to create a special service district must contain a description of the proposed boundaries of the district, a description of the services to be provided, and a proposed name for the district.
For either local districts or special service districts, once the resolution or petition has been adopted and validated, there is a public notice period after which a final resolution creating the district may be adopted by the cities and/or counties involved. Once created, the creation documents are sent to the Lieutenant Governor’s office for certification of incorporation.