December 21, 2002

The number of the nation's local governments totaled 87,525 in 2002 and nearly one-third of them provided information and services online, according to the first information from the 2002 Census of Governments released by the Commerce Department's Census Bureau.

"About 3-in-10 of the responding local governments, which includes school districts, reported they had an official Internet site," said Stephen Poyta, co-author of the report. "This is the first census of governments to ask questions about e-government. The last one was five years ago.

Grouped by population size, 78 percent of governments serving populations of 25,000 or more reported an official website, while only 20 percent of those serving less than 25,000 population had an online presence."

Other highlights of the report:

- Overall, the number of local governments increased by less than 1 percent since 1997.

- The tally of governments among the nation's 3,136 county or county-equivalent areas was: 3,034 counties; 19,429 municipalities; 16,504 townships; 35,052 special districts; and 13,506 independent school districts.

- There were nine fewer county governments that were active in 2002 than in 1997, and the number of such governments is now lower than at any time since 1921.

- The average population served by a county government is about 83,000. The smallest, Loving County, Texas, had only 67 inhabitants in 2000, while Los Angeles County had more than 9.5 million.

- Florida, Texas and North Carolina showed the greatest increase in new municipal incorporations over the past five years, with a growth rate of about 2 percent.

- Only one state, Indiana, had township governments covering all of its area and population.

- Of the 35,052 special district governments, 31,877 served a single purpose. Of these, 21 percent served a natural resources function such as drainage and flood control.

- California, Illinois and Texas had the most special district governments; the District of Columbia, Alaska and Hawaii had the fewest. Examples of special district governments were fire protection, housing and community development, and water supply.

- In 2002, there were 106 fewer school districts in Nebraska than in 1997, the largest decrease in the nation.

Data in the report, Government Organization: 2002, came from state and local government administrative records, legislative research and a directory survey of about 90,000 state and local governments and subordinate agencies. It is the first in a series of 2002 Census of Governments publications on public-sector statistics.

Although the data are not subject to sampling error, they are subject to various nonsampling errors. Sources of nonsampling error include lost or mishandled questionnaires, inaccurate coding, misclassification of governments, coverage errors and nonreporting.

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