A new accountability tool created by legislation from the 85th Texas Legislature aims to bring more transparency to notoriously opaque local government entities in Texas – special purpose districts.

The tool, created by the passage of Senate Bill 625, is the Special Purpose District Public Information Database (SPDPID) and as of this month it is live on the Texas Comptroller website.

SB 625 was filed by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) and, simply put, requires special purpose districts to provide financial information, records, and tax rates to the Comptroller’s office to be hosted on a publicly available database.

In recent years, special purpose districts, or SPDs, have come to be known as “invisible governments” because of the lack of readily available public information on them. Texas has thousands of SPDs which each exist to serve a specific purpose. There are SPDs for levy improvement, flood control, toll roads, municipal utilities, emergency services, libraries, and hospitals, just to name a few.

Inquiring minds hoping to find information on tax rates, spending, debt, and board members, often had to visit an individual district website to get information and, in many instances, request information under the Texas Public Information Act.

The information now provided through the public database includes names of board members, counties and cities within the SPD’s jurisdiction, third party contact information, sales and use tax rates that the district imposes, total bonded debt, and more.

A quick search of the database shows that for the five largest counties, the database has records for 503 districts in Harris County, 32 in Dallas, 36 in Tarrant, 23 in Bexar, and 96 in Travis. It’s the first time taxpayers are able to find consolidated information on special purpose districts searchable by entity name, city, county, or taxpayer ID number. 

In a statement provided to Texas Scorecard, Kolkhorst wrote:

“Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the case of Senate Bill 625, it was written to be a new tool for taxpayers. So many of my constituents want to better understand the various entities who generate their property tax bill. Knowledge is power and if we are to address the issue of rising property taxes then taxpayers must first be able to know more about the growing prevalence of taxing entities themselves. I wrote and passed SB 625 to help them do that.”

According to the tool, Fort Bend County, which falls in Kolkhorst’s district, has 164 of these entities. 

In order for Texans to hold their local taxing entities accountable, they have to be informed about them. This tool will help provide much needed information on the inner workings of these districts, now it’s up to taxpayers to take advantage!

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.