Special districts — with power to tax — grow like corn in Nebraska

Despite Nebraska's general disdain for big government and taxes, the state sure has a lot of both.

Nebraska ranks 14th in the nation for number of local governments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with 2,659 governments ranging from cities to counties to villages.

"We do have too much government," said Doug Kagan of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom. "There are counties in Nebraska where there's more livestock than people."

Nearly half of the local governments in Nebraska are "special district governments" with the power to tax with much less scrutiny and accountability than traditional governmental entities. They do everything from run airports to build cemeteries to organize county fairs to fight rural fires.

The number of special districts in Nebraska has nearly tripled since 1952. In the early to mid 1960s, more than 200 special districts were created in Nebraska. By 1992, Nebraska was one of just nine states with more than 1,000 special districts. As of last year, only seven states had more special districts than Nebraska - despite the state's small population.

A good chunk of those special districts are sanitary and improvement districts, created to finance infrastructure in new developments. The vast majority of Nebraska's SIDs are in Douglas and Sarpy counties. Of 843 SIDs created in Nebraska, about 550 have been annexed by Omaha or other cities. There are now about 300 SIDs in Douglas and Sarpy counties, according to Douglas County Treasurer's office.

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