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 treats improvement districts as any other municipality. However, the Government of Alberta manages all local government functions, including the levy and collection of taxes, for the improvement 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 improvement districts are distinct from the Municipal Government Act’s provisions on these matters for municipalities (i.e. cities, towns, villages, summer villages, municipal districts). A key difference between improvement districts and municipalities is that residents of the improvement 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 eight improvement districts in Alberta. Five of the eight improvement 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) and Improvement No. 24 (Wood Buffalo). Two are provincial parks: Kananaskis Improvement District (40 provincial parks, provincial wildland areas,provincial recreation areas, and natural areas in Kananaskis Country) and Improvement District No. 25 (Willmore Wilderness). The provincial and federal governments have primary governing responsibility in these areas except for school affairs.