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(a) Limited-purpose districts

A limited-purpose metropolitan special district is an independent unit of government organized to perform one or a few urban functions throughout part of all of a metropolitan area, including the central city.17

Limited-purpose districts, sometimes called authorities, are usually established by State law and without a popular referendum. They ordinarily perform service rather than regulatory functions. The most common services are port facilities and sewage disposal, followed by parks, water supply, housing, and airports. Other services performed include air pollution control, flood control, regional planning, hospital facilities, and public health.

The composition of special district governing bodies varies greatly, but most of them have appointed or ex officio members, with the appointments made by the Governor or by governing bodies of local cities within the jurisdiction of the special district. The ex officio members usually are also drawn from these local governing bodies. Limited-purpose districts generally finance their operations from service charges, sales, rents, and tolls. Many do not have the taxing power, but where they do it is frequently unhampered by the constitutional and statutory tax limits that apply to other local governments. Exercise of the bonding power usually does not require referral to the voters, but frequently is restricted to the issuance of revenue bonds.

The extensive use of metropolitan special districts, and the transfer to them of local government functions to be handled on an area wide basis, is one of the most significant recent changes in local government organization in metropolitan areas. This development has resulted largely from the fact that limited-purpose districts are free from the constitutional and statutory limits on the fiscal powers of generalpurpose local governments. In part, however, this approach has been a response to the need for governmental innovation to handle area wide problems when other methods for adapting local government were impossible to achieve.

Examples of some of the largest limited-purpose metropolitan districts are the Chicago Transit Authority, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (Boston), the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District (San Francisco), the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Port of New York Authority.

The key advantage of the limited-purpose special district approach, and the main reason for its extensive use, is its political feasibility. It poses only a minor threat to existing political organization and power by chipping off a function previously performed before by local governments. This erosion may not become serious enough to

18 For detailed treatment of metropolitan special districts, see John C. Bollens, Special District Governments in the United States (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957). A much more numerous type of special district is the urban special district, which contains a small part of a metropolitan area, usually an unincorporated, densely settled part. Since this is not generally a method of broadening the jurisdiction of local units of government, it is excluded from treatment as a method of governmental reorganization in metropolitan areas as defined in this review.

arouse alarm unless a number of functions are chipped away successively by the creation of additional special districts. This approach is even less likely to provoke strong opposition when special districts are proposed to perform areawide functions only as a supplement to continued local performance. In addition, a metropolitan special district can usually be created by simple act of the legislature, and does not require constitutional amendment, unlike, in many cases, city-county consolidation, county home rule, or federation.

The special district approach has proved effective in providing an area wide geographic base for dealing with metropolitan problems. It can function unrestricted by the boundaries of local government jurisdictions. It offers the advantage of consolidated administration of a large-scale operation, and facilitates improved planning and execution of the services provided, at the same time that the smaller units of local government retain responsibility for other functions. The metropolitan special district is adaptable to use where the metropolitan area covers more than one county, or more than one State. Some of the other reorganization methods are practically limited to a single county and State.

Giving the limited-purpose special district just one, or at most a few, functions makes its responsibility clear. It is likely to give the public what it wants, exactly and quickly. If the public wants a good water supply, for example, it will know that by creating a water district it will get good water, or know the reason why. On the other hand, this "single mindedness" often works to the detriment of a coordinated approach, since such basic services as water supply or transportation have a major impact on other area development programs.

The limited-purpose special district has other weaknesses. Extensive use of the device complicates rather than simplifies the problem of governmental coordination in the metropolitan area. Particularly when separate districts are set up for each function, authority is further diffused rather than consolidated, increasing the difficulties of voter control and leading to duplication of effort. Once set up, special districts are difficult to abolish or consolidate, with the result that such areawide approach as there is in the metropolitan community tends to be fragmented rather than coordinated.

Limited-purpose special districts frequently are established with the intention of being self-supporting. The need for covering their costs tends to become a preoccupation, with the result that they may neglect the effects of their activities on other related services, and resist efforts to have them assume responsibility for activities such as mass transit which may not be self-supporting.

(b) Multipurpose districts

The metropolitan multipurpose district has developed mainly as a way of capitalizing on the strengths of the limited-purpose approach while avoiding the fractionalization of government in metropolitan areas. A metropolitan multipurpose district as here defined is a special authority set up pursuant to State law to perform a number of services in all or most of a metropolitan area. Usually the initiation and approval of the establishment of the district and the addition of functions requires the approval of local governing bodies or of the voters of the affected local governments.

This approach to local government reorganization has been proposed in a number of cases but seldom adopted. Its distinguishing characteristics are found in the only existing multipurpose district in the United States-the municipality of Metropolitan Seattle-and in the recent serious proposals for setting up such districts, as in California and Minnesota. These characteristics are (1) the potential performance of more than one function, as distinguished from the limitedpurpose district; and (2) vesting in the area affected the authority to take on the additional functions. Some of the proposals have provided for other features to be included, such as the appointment of members of the governing body by and from the governing bodies of the constituent local governments.

In the past a few metropolitan special districts have been given more than one function to perform. The Port of New York Authority and the Bi-State Development Agency (St. Louis, Mo.-East St. Louis, Ill.) are examples. Generally, however, they have been reluctant to assume new responsibilities, and have not viewed their purpose as that of providing a wide variety of functions.18 The multipurpose district, gradually taking on additional responsibilities pursuant to local consent, is thus a relatively new concept.

The municipality of Metropolitan Seattle was set up in 1958 under a 1957 State law enabling cities and towns of Washington to act jointly to meet common problems and obtain essential services not adequately provided by existing agencies of local government. It provides sewage disposal and water pollution control services in an area surrounding Lake Washington entirely within King County. Under the law local communities are empowered to add the following additional functions to the metropolitan municipal corporation: transportation, comprehensive planning, water, parks, and garbage disposal. The Seattle metropolitan municipality has not taken on any additional functions to date, however.

The district is governed by a metropolitan council of 16 members, consisting of 14 elected officials from component municipalities, one commissioner of King County, and one additional person (not an elected official) chosen by the remainder of the council to act as chairman. The district has no direct taxing powers. It may accept Federal grants and borrow from other local governments, as well as issue revenue bonds for capital purposes. Revenue to finance current operation, maintenance, and debt service comes from service charges imposed on a per-household basis. The district may also obtain "supplemental income" from each component city and county, based on the local share of the total assessed value of the district.19

The metropolitian multipurpose district, as established in Seattle and proposed elsewhere, has most of the strengths of the metropolitan limited-purpose district: adaptation to metropolitan scope, response to immediate public need, forestalling the creation of many small urban special districts. Moreover, the metropolitan multipurpose district has several additional advantages: (1) By requiring that the assumption of additional functions be subject to voter approval, it preserves sensitivity to local wishes, and controls the piecemeal approach to

18 Bollens, Special District Governments in the United States, op. cit., pp. 68-69. 19 First Annual Report, Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, 1959-60 (Seattle Metropolitan Council, July 1960).

handling metropolitan functions; (2) it forestalls or discourages the creation of a number of limited-purpose districts, probably with different areas of jurisdiction, different organization, and different bases of representation. The metropolitan multipurpose district provides a unit which is more responsive to the people than a multitude of individual special districts; (3) as a two-layer plan, it reserves local control over local matters while facilitating area wide control over area problems; (4) it greatly diminishes the problems of coordination among areawide functions; (5) if properly constituted, with general taxing and borrowing powers, it can overcome the financial straitjacket of many limited-purpose districts.

However, the metropolitan multipurpose district has had very limited use, although as a proposal it has received strong backing from many quarters. The multipurpose district has less political feasibility than the limited-purpose special district, for two reasons: (1) it constitutes more of a threat to established local governments and other existing institutions, since it has the potential of exercising many functions and becoming a competitive general government; (2) as used in Seattle and recommended in most of the recent proposals, it requires favorable votes of component governing bodies and/or local electorates, whereas the special district usually is established or authorized by simple act of the State legislature.


Annexation and consolidation are the two general ways by which municipal boundaries are adjusted. Annexation is the absorption of territory by a city. While such territory may be either incorporated or unincorporated, usually it is unincorporated territory, and smaller than the annexing city. The result is a larger and not essentially different governmental unit. Consolidation is the joining together of two or more units of government of approximately equal stature to form a new unit of government. Annexation has been used much more widely than consolidation. (City-county consolidation is discussed later as a separate reorganization approach.)

Annexation has always been the most common method for adjusting the boundaries of local governments in the urban and metropolitan areas of the United States. The Nation's great cities achieved their present size largely through this process. The period of greatest use of annexation was prior to 1900, during a time when the area around the large cities was sparsely settled. Annexation was relatively easv to achieve because it could be accomplished by special legislative act, by unilateral action of the annexing city, or by approval of a simple majority of the combined vote of the city and the territory to be annexed.

Around the turn of the century, annexation became more difficult as suburbanization grew, and residents of the fringe areas succeeded in getting changes in State constitutions and statutes to forestall absorption by their larger neighbors. Many States gave fringe area residents exclusive authority to initiate annexation proceedings, and required. separate majority votes in both the annexing city and the territory to be annexed. New cities and villages gradually were incorporated around the edges of the central cities, and amendments to many State

annexation laws made it difficult to annex any but unincorporated areas. These changes made great inroads on the territory available for annexation by central cities.

In the post-World War II population expansion, annexations have again become significant ways of expanding the boundaries of central cities. Recent annexations have been mainly of small areas, however. Annexation has come to be used mostly as a means of resolving the problems arising between the central city and its abutting unincorporated urban fringe, the type of uncontrolled development referred to in the section above on extraterritorial powers. However, there have been some large annexations by large cities. Thus in 1960 Kansas City, Mo., voters approved annexation of 187 square miles, more than doubling that city's size. In 1959 Oklahoma City added 193 square miles to its 88 square miles of territory, and in 1960 added 149 square miles more.20 Major annexations of this type depend upon two conditions: liberal State annexation law, and the sizable and adjacent unincorporated territory.

The use of annexation powers must be considered in connection with two other procedures affecting the orderly development of unincorporated territory in metropolitan areas: extraterritorial regulation and incorporation of new units of government. As noted previously, extraterritorial regulation can be an important step paving the way for sound annexation. It establishes controls over unincorporated territory at the critical formation time in the development of a community, when decisions of great importance for the urban future of the area are made. Controls over new incorporations are necessary to assure that new units of government have the potential for providing adequate urban services, and that further fragmentation of government in the metropolitan area is minimized. Unless such controls are exercised, "defensive incorporations" may be undertaken to avoid annexation or regulation. For example, in St. Louis County, Mo., between 1945 and 1950, 44 new municipalities were incorporated-instigated in a large number of cases by builders who wished to be free of county zoning and building regulations.21

Consolidation has been a rarely used reorganization approach. Such use of the method as has been made by the larger cities occurred prior to 1900.22 Even among smaller units, while consolidations are commonly recommended by study groups, they are not often carried out. Examples of the few recent consolidations are Newport News and Warwick, Va., forming the new city of Newport News,23 the town and village of Bennington, Vt., and the town and village of Springfield, Vt.24

A principal reason for the decline in use of consolidation by the large cities was the movement toward the abolition or restriction of special legislation noted earlier in regard to annexation. The early large-scale consolidations were imposed upon the communities by special legislation, and as suburban communities organized and grew

Municipal Year Book 1961 (Chicago: International City Managers' Association, 1961), pp. 57-58. Edward C. Banfield and Morton Grodzins, Government and Housing in Metropolitan Areas (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958), p. 83. Paul Studenski, The Government of Metropolitan Areas (New York: National Municipal League, 1930), pp. 65-155. National Civic Review, XLVI (September, 1957), p. 409. National Civic Review, XLVI (July 1957), p. 355.

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