Special Service Districts are jurisdictions for Indianapolis city police protection, fire protection, and other service delivery. These districts have artificial legal boundaries that do not correspond with any other currently existing local government unit. The Unigov reorganization of local government in Marion County did not extend all previous Indianapolis city services outward to the Marion County boundaries. As a result, “special service districts” were designated inside Marion County for Indianapolis city services that covered less than the territory of the newly consolidated city.

These two special service districts were created at the time The Unigov reorganization that took effect in 1970 created an Indianapolis Police Service District and an Indianapolis Fire Special Service District. The Indianapolis Police Special Service District covered the area served by the Indianapolis Police Department and was essentially the same as the pre-Unigov City of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Fire Special Service District was the area served by the Indianapolis Fire Department and was also roughly the same as the pre-Unigov city, although not exactly the same as the Police Special Service District. The operations of both were administered by the Indianapolis Department Of Public Safety.

In 2007, the Indianapolis Police Department and the sheriff’s law enforcement deputies were consolidated into the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) under control of the sheriff and provided police services county-wide; in 2008 control of IMPD was passed to the mayor. In 2007, state law also allowed township fire departments to voluntarily consolidate into the Indianapolis Fire Department under the control of the mayor. All but Decatur, Pike, and Wayne townships have done so to date. All fire protection units within the county are linked by mutual aid agreements.

In 1976 the Indianapolis Solid Waste Collection Special Service District was created, separating it from the Indianapolis Sanitary District of which it had been a part. It is administered by the Department Of Public Works. Residents within the Solid Waste Collection Special Service District have their trash picked up by Indianapolis city government crews, while private haulers collect the garbage for most Marion County residents living outside the special service district. The creation of this new special service district allowed city garbage collection, and the taxes paying for it, to be separated from the countywide services of sewage collection and disposal and wastewater treatment and discharge.

The City-County Council retains the authority to extend the territory of special service districts, and minor extensions have occurred for each of the three existing districts, but all three remain confined essentially to the central portion of Marion County corresponding with the pre-Unigov City of Indianapolis. The City-County Council is also authorized by state law to create additional special service districts and define their powers and responsibilities.

The special service districts finance their operations, improvements, and debt services through various combinations of property taxes imposed on residents within the districts and user fees or service charges collected from recipients of their services. Property taxes to fund the special service districts are restricted to property within the districts’ boundaries. If a district provides services beyond its boundaries it may collect a service charge from those nonresidents.

Each special service district is governed by a Special Service District Council, which is a subset of the City-County Council. The Special Service District Council for a district consists of the four at-large members of the City-County Council plus the other members whose council districts lie wholly or mostly within that special service district. The Special Service District Council has the authority to conduct the initial review and approval of the budget, appropriations, tax rates, and user fees or service charges for its special service district. Because their service areas are so nearly identical, one Special Service District Council governs both the Police Special Service District and the Fire Special Service District.

The inclusion on the Special Service District Councils of the at-large members of the CityCounty Council, and of other City-County Council members whose districts were only partially included within a special service district, precipitated two lawsuits. The controversy stemmed largely from the fact that including these members created Republican majorities on each of the councils, which otherwise would have had Democratic majorities. Both lawsuits were unsuccessful. The first, Bryant  v. Whitcomb (1970), concerned the inclusion of the City-County Council members whose districts were only partially within the affected special service districts. The second, Cantwell v. Hudnut (1976), concerned the inclusion of the at-large members of the City-County Council; although the challengers prevailed in federal district court, the district judge’s decision was reversed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 2013, the Indiana General Assembly voted to eliminate the 4 at-large seats in the City-County Council. With the 2015 election, the 4 at-large councilors were eliminated. The remaining 25 councilors must reside in the districts they represent. They also serve on Special Service District Councils if a majority of its residents live in their electoral districts.

Revised July 2021

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