The 89,400 local governments in the U.S. right now are 472 fewer than in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Does that mean that 472 once-vibrant American villages have turned into ghost towns in the last 5 years? Not exactly.
To the Census Bureau, "local governments" include; counties, municipalities, townships, special districts and independent school districts. Every 5 years - the years ending in "2" and "7" -- the Census Bureau counts them all to produce its Census of Governments.
Breaking those categories down, in 2012, U.S. local governments include: 3,031 counties (down from 3,033 in 2007), 19,522 municipalities (up from 19,492 in 2007), 16,364 townships (down from 16,519 in 2007), 37,203 special districts (down from 37,381 in 2007) and 12,884 independent school districts (down from 13,051 in 2007).
So while the number of municipalities actually grew by 30 decreases in the number of counties (-2), townships (-155), special districts (-178) and independent school districts (-167), combined to make up the drop of 472 reported in the 2012 Census of Governments.
Many of the decreases were due to mergers and consolidations of townships, special districts and school districts.
According to the Census Bureau, the most dramatic change in the number of local government since 1952 has been the decline in independent school districts and the sizable increase in special districts.
Special districts - like fire districts, water districts and transit districts -- are organized local entities other than county, municipal, township or school district governments that are authorized by state law to provide only one or a limited number of designated functions. Officials of special districts are typically elected by the residents of the municipalities, townships and outlying areas served by the district.
Interesting Figures from the Census of Governments:
Illinois leads all states with 6,968 local governments, 2063 more than second-ranking Pennsylvania's 4,905.
Hawaii does just fine, thank you, with just 21 local governments, the fewest in the nation.
Texas remains first in the nation with the most independent school districts at 1,079, closely followed by California, with 1,025.
Also See: How the Census Must Change