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Reflecting on 2023, NSDC Looks Forward to Advancing and Meeting Goals in 2024

This year was the fifth formal year for the National Special Districts Coalition. As the Coalition turned five, it experienced growth into new states, strengthened federal advocacy efforts, increased capacity to provide resources of interest to the nation’s special districts, and has begun to develop an early framework for Coalition action beyond securing a federal “special district” definition.


Milestones Hit in Federal Definition Efforts

Crafting federal policies takes time, and successfully shuttling legislation across the finish line can take multiple congresses. NSDC’s Advocacy Team have been hard at work to clear hurdles and remove roadblocks to achieving the Coalition’s No. 1 federal policy priority.

Much of NSDC’s legislative focus in 2023 remained on development and advancement of the definition. A national working group developed, and the NSDC Executive Committee approved a formal “special district” definition in May 2023, marking its first major milestone. The second was achieved when the Coalition secured a bipartisan pair of Representatives –Pat Fallon, R-Texas, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Colo. – to lead what is expected to soon become the “Special Districts Recognition Act.”

After four months of independent vetting, majority staff members on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, which has jurisdiction over federal and intergovernmental organization issues, have given the green light for Special Districts Recognition Act in January.

NSDC is committed to advancing the “Special Districts Recognition Act” with the advocacy of its grassroots supporters and special districts across the nation, to President Biden’s desk in 2024.

The Coalition’s advocacy will not stop with the success of the “Special Districts Recognition Act.” The Special Districts Recognition Act’s intent is to give the U.S. Census Bureau the clarity it needs to efficiently interpret and understand special districts as a form of local government in the same fashion it, and other federal agencies, interpret and understand counties, cities, towns, and school districts. Further goals on this priority includes partnering with the Census Bureau to increase special districts’ participation in the semi-decennial “Census of Governments” in 2027. In doing so, federal agencies will have a clearer understanding of special districts as a significant element of American local government. Finally, NSDC’s objective is to earn agencies’ recognition of special districts as geographic entities by 2031, which would grant districts federally-recognized household and population data.


Expanding Local Government Advocacy Connections

There was much more to NSDC’s advocacy on and off Capitol Hill for 2023. The Coalition made inroads with fellow local government organizations at the national level. NSDC became a member of the Government Finance Officers Association’s “Public Finance Network,” a well-known and respected coalition of public finance professionals and advocates in Washington. As a result, NSDC is a recognized stakeholder in government finance policy and was able to join, for the first time, peer associations on a Supreme Court Amicus Brief arguing against sequestration of Build America Bonds interest subsidies over the past decade. Although the Supreme Court declined the petition, NSDC marks inclusion as a voice on this issue as a significant step into becoming a recognized force of local government.

NSDC has also been developing a great working relationship with the National Association of Counties, or NACo. Marking another significant milestone in 2023, NSDC was afforded the opportunity to present an overview of special districts issues and general opportunities to collaborate to NACo’s county members. The Coalition is grateful to NACo for the opportunity to engage with special districts’ county partners at the national level, and NSDC will continue developing this relationship and others like it 2024.

Finally, NSDC coordinated a coalition of 75 districts, cities, and counties supporting fire departments’ ability to fight wildfire with federally reviewed and approved fire retardant without concern of violating the Clean Water Act. NSDC continues to build this coalition in support of Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s, R-Calif., H.R. 1586, the Forest Protection and Wildland Firefighter Safety Act, along with S. 796, which is sponsored legislation by Senator Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.


Coalition Engagement

The Coalition offered to special districts its first webinar series in partnership with The Ferguson Group (TFG) and Paragon Government Relations. The three-part summer webinar series was shared with NSDC Association and Special District members – to make available to their members online, on-demand – covers best practices for grants strategy, prioritization, and research; approach to key advocacy topics; and a synopsis of the federal earmarks program for special districts.

NSDC districts also received access to resources and best practices for public fund investment from Public Trust Advisors, an NSDC Platinum Affiliate, and ADA compliance resources from Streamline, a NSDC Gold Affiliate. As the Coalition’s affiliation program continues to grow in 2024, NSDC is excited to offer more webinars and resources for our special district members across the country.


Districts Make the Difference Continues to Grow

The Districts Make the Difference (DMTD), the national public awareness campaign for special districts, grew substantially in 2023. As of Thanksgiving 2023, more than 2.5 million impressions on DMTD’s social media platforms across the country, further elevating awareness of special districts and the services they provide to millions every day.

Central to DMTD is the annual Student Video Contest, a scholarship program for high school students to create 60-second videos highlighting the significance of special districts. Submissions to the national contest increased to 47 from 22 states, marking a 23 percent increase in contest entries from its first year accepting national submissions in 2022. Both the DMTD public awareness and NSDC will synergize for further growth of the campaign in 2024.