County, County government

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In the United States, a county is a political and geographic subdivision of a state, usually assigned some governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 of the 50 U.S. states. The exceptions are Louisiana and Alaska, where the functionally equivalent subdivisions are called, respectively, parishes and boroughs. Numerous consolidated city–counties exist throughout the U.S. in which a city has merged with its county to form one unified jurisdiction with the governmental powers of both entities.


The powers of counties arise from state law and vary widely.

In Connecticut and Rhode Island,

counties are geographic entities, but not governmental jurisdictions. At the other extreme, Maryland counties and the county-equivalent City of Baltimore handle almost all services, including public education, although the state retains an active oversight authority with many of these services.

In most Midwestern and Northeastern states, counties are further subdivided into townships or towns and may contain other independent, self-governing municipalities.

Counties are usually governed by an elected board of supervisors, county commission, county freeholders, county council, or county legislature. In some counties, there is a county executive.

In many states, the board in charge of a county holds powers that transcend all three traditional branches of government. It has the legislative power to enact ordinances for the county; it has the executive power to oversee the executive operations of county government; and it has quasi-judicial power with regard to certain limited matters (such as hearing appeals from the planning commission if one exists).

The day-to-day operations of the county government are sometimes overseen by an elected county executive or by a chief administrative officer or county administrator who reports to the board, the mayor, or both.

In many states, several important officials are elected separately from the board of commissioners or supervisors and cannot be fired by the board. These positions may include county clerk, county treasurer, county surrogate, district attorney, sheriff, and others.

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External Links

  • WikipediaGeographic Areas Reference ManualNational Association of CountiesAtlas of Historical County BoundariesWhere Americans are moving, by county, in 2010

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