Metropolitan District: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

Metropolitan District: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

Do you live in a municipality known as a Metropolitan District? If so, you should know that there are some important things to understand about this type of government. Discussed below is what a Metropolitan District is and why you should care.

What Is A Metropolitan District?

What Is A Metropolitan District? A metropolitan district is a special-purpose district in which voters of several local municipalities elect representatives to a board of directors. While metropolitan districts often encompass multiple municipalities, such as school districts and regional park and transportation authorities, the most familiar type is the fire protection district.

Fire protection districts are authorized by state law (RCW 52.14) and governed by boards that consist of locally elected officials from participating cities or towns within the district. Metropolitan districts are independent governmental entities formed to provide specific services, such as fire protection.

They are designed for efficiency and cost-effectiveness rather than to protect against a particular hazard. Metropolitan district boundaries are coterminous with postal zip codes or municipal boundaries—not entire counties or townships, as in some states.

Why Should You Care?

The existence of metropolitan districts matters to property owners because they are responsible for real property within their district boundaries. Below are some more in-depth reasons.

Metropolitan Districts Limit Local Authority

A metropolitan district is an independent governmental entity with the authority to levy taxes, incur debt, and receive other revenue. It does not rely on local property tax levies or city budgets for funding—nor does it need to be approved by voters residing within its boundaries. Several aspects of metropolitan districts limit local authority, including taxation and debt.

Metropolitan Districts Limit Personal Liability

Local voters elect directors who represent them on metropolitan district boards, similar to school boards and city councils. This makes property owners particularly vulnerable to personal liability claims if a fire department fails to follow accepted operational practices that result in injuries or death. An example might be a firefighter responding to a structure fire, placing his or her own life at risk but neglecting to ventilate the home as required by NFPA standards.

Metropolitan Districts Limit Insurance Coverage

In a metropolitan district, the governing body will likely spend funds on services beyond what is covered by taxes and fees. In these cases, there are often insurance requirements. However, even in metropolitan districts where coverage is required by law, the level of funding provided by tax dollars typically falls short of the actual insurance claims. The result is that property owners are often left to make up the difference by paying higher premiums.

In conclusion, you should know that metropolitan districts are not inherently good or bad. The advantage of a metropolitan district structure is that it allows for increased government efficiency and innovation at the local level. However, they can create challenges for property owners in certain circumstances because of their independence.