Improvement districts are municipal authorities originally formed by the Government of Alberta in sparsely populated areas where there was neither the population nor the tax base to support and finance a viable local government. In many ways, the Municipal Government Act (MGA) treats districts as any other municipality. However, the Government of Alberta manages all local government functions, including the levy and collection of taxes, for the districts unless a local council has been elected.
The province may carry out changes to an improvement district, including amalgamation, annexation, dissolution, and establishing industrial improvement areas. The formation process, criteria, and administrative matters related to districts are distinct from the MGA’s provisions on these matters for municipalities (such as cities, towns, villages, summer villages, municipal districts). A key difference between districts and municipalities is that residents of the districts have no direct input into the bylaws that govern them, or into local land use planning decisions, apart from when the Government of Alberta has established a local council.
There are 8 districts in Alberta. Five of the 8 districts are located in national parks:
- Improvement District No. 4 (Waterton)
- Improvement District No. 9 (Banff)
- Improvement District No. 12 (Jasper)
- Improvement District No. 13 (Elk Island)
- Improvement No. 24 (Wood Buffalo)
- Improvement District No. 349
Two are provincial parks:
- Kananaskis Improvement District (40 provincial parks, provincial wildland areas, provincial recreation areas, and natural areas in Kananaskis Country)
- Improvement District No. 25 (Willmore Wilderness)
The provincial and federal governments have primary governing responsibility in these areas except for school affairs.