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Special Districts Outnumber Cities 2-to-1

The most common type of local government is not the city. Not by a long shot.

Cities may be the core blocks of local government in the U.S. and swallow the lion's share of attention when it comes to technology projects. But they are not the most common type of local government.

No, that distinction would go to special districts. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's count of local governments from 2012, the most recent year of data, there are more than 38,266 special districts across the country. That's about 40 percent of the 90,000-plus local governments included in the data.

And that's without considering independent school districts. There are nearly 13,000 of those spread throughout the U.S.

Cities, townships and counties combined only make up 38,910. Cities are about 19,500 of that, or about half the number of special districts.

Special districts in this data set are mostly single-purpose, meaning their scope of work is far narrower than the average city, county or township. That means that tech companies who work with special districts will likely be aimed at addressing very specific problems.

In fact, that has been happening. A drone startup, AirMap, has been making its name in the public sector helping airports track drone flights. Another company called Koios is developing software for libraries to show people on the Internet when the book they're searching for is available to check out.

Next week, we'll dig into the most common types of special district in the U.S.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.
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