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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

United States of America showing states divided into counties.

In the United States, a county is a local level of government below the state (or federal territory). Counties are used in 48 of the 50 states, while Louisiana is divided into parishes and Alaska into boroughs.[1] These are considered "county-equivalents", as are some cities not designated as part of a county. The U.S. Census Bureau lists 3,140 counties or county-equivalent administrative units in total.

There are on average 62 counties per state. The average U.S. county population is about 100,000. The most heavily populated county of the U.S., Los Angeles County, California, has a population of approximately 9,880,000, which is a larger population than all but eight states of the union. The least populated counties are Loving County, Texas, population 67, and Kalawao County, Hawaii, a former leper colony, population 147.

The site of a county's administration and courts is called the county seat. The power of the county government varies widely from state to state, as does the distribution of power between the state, counties, and municipalities, which is defined in each state's laws and constitution.[2]

The majority of US counties are named for people. Washington County and Jefferson County are the most common names. Other common sources of county names are geographic features (e.g. "Lake County"), places in other states or countries, Native American tribes, and animals. Quite a few counties bear names of French or Spanish origin.[3]

Contents

History

Counties were among the earliest units of local government established in the original Thirteen Colonies. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the first colony to establish counties, in 1643.[4] Although counties remained relatively weak in New England, Pennsylvania and New York delegated a significant amount of power and responsibility from the state government to county governments, and thereby established the pattern that remains in place in most of the United States.[4]

County names

Counties are most often named for people, with over 2,100 of the 3,140 total so named. The most common county name, with 31, is Washington County, for America's first president, George Washington. Up until 1871, there was a Washington County within the District of Columbia, but it was dissolved by the District of Columbia Organic Act. Jefferson County, for Thomas Jefferson, is next with 27. The most recent president to have a county named for him was Warren Harding, reflecting the slowing rate of county creation. After people, the next most common source of county names are geographic features and locations, with some counties even being named after counties in other states, or for places in countries such as the United Kingdom. The most common geographic county name is Lake. Native American tribes and animals lend their names to some counties. Quite a few counties bear names of French or Spanish origin.[5]

Governance

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 mayor or a county executive. The position of mayor is mostly ceremonial in some states, while in others, the mayor is more powerful than the commissioners or supervisors.[1]

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 (like hearing appeals from the planning commission if one exists).

As for the day-to-day operations of the county government, they are sometimes overseen by a county manager or chief administrative officer who reports to the board, the mayor, or both.

In some states, the county technically has a plural executive in that several important officials are elected separately from the board of commissioners or supervisors (implying they cannot be fired by the board). This can create tension if such officials then disagree on how to best carry out their respective functions.

Scope of power

The power of county governments varies widely from state to state, as does the relationship between counties and incorporated cities. The government of the county usually resides in a municipality called the county seat. However, some counties may have multiple seats or no seat.

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Minimal scope

In New England, counties function at most as judicial court districts and sheriff's departments (presently, in Connecticut only as judicial court districts - and in Rhode Island, they have lost both those functions and all others), and most of the governmental authority below the state level is in the hands of towns and cities. In several of Maine's sparsely populated counties, small towns rely on the county for law enforcement, and in New Hampshire several social programs are administered at the state level. In some New England states, such as in Connecticut, parts of Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, counties are now only geographic designations, and they do not have any governmental powers. All government is either done at the state level or at the municipal level. In Connecticut and parts of Massachusetts, regional councils have been established to partially fill the void left behind by the abolished county governments.[6] The regional councils' authority is much more limited compared with a county government—the regional councils have no taxing authority or authority to issue permits; the aforementioned powers are delegated to the town governments. However, the regional councils do have authority over infrastructure and land use planning, distribution of state and federal funds for infrastructure projects, emergency preparedness, and limited law enforcement duties.

Moderate scope

Outside New England, counties typically provide, at a minimum, courts, public utilities, libraries, hospitals, public health services, parks, roads, law enforcement, and jails. There is usually a county registrar, recorder, or clerk (the exact title varies) who collects vital statistics, holds elections (sometimes in coordination with a separate elections office or commission), and prepares or processes certificates of births, deaths, marriages, and dissolutions (divorce decrees). Counties usually register all real estate transactions. Other key county officials include the coroner/medical examiner, treasurer, assessor, auditor, controller, and district attorney.

In most states, the county sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer in the county. However, except in major emergencies where clear chains of command are absolutely essential, the county sheriff normally does not directly control the police departments of city governments, but merely cooperates with them. Thus, the most common interaction between county and city law enforcement personnel is where city police officers deliver suspects to sheriff's deputies for detention or incarceration in the county jail.

In many states, the county controls all unincorporated lands within its boundaries. In states with a township tier, unincorporated land is controlled by the townships. Residents of unincorporated land who are dissatisfied with county-level or township-level resource allocation decisions can attempt to vote to incorporate as a city, town (in states that do not have townships), or village.

A few counties directly provide public transportation themselves, usually in the form of a simple bus system. However, in most counties, public transportation is provided by one of the following: a special district that is coterminous with the county, a multi-county regional transit authority, or a state agency.

Broad scope

In some states, more populated counties provide many facilities, such as airports, convention centers, museums, beaches, harbors, zoos, clinics, law libraries, and public housing. They provide services such as child and family services, elder services, mental health services, welfare services, veterans assistance services, animal control, probation supervision, historic preservation, food safety regulation, and environmental health services. They have many additional officials like public defenders, arts commissioners, human rights commissioners, and planning commissioners. Finally, there may also be a county fire department (as distinguished from fire departments operated by individual cities, special districts, or the state government).

Maryland, in particular, vests its counties with broad powers, including educational responsibilities (which are normally handled in all other states by school districts specific to particular cities, towns, or regions).

Number of county equivalents per state

There are on average 62.8 counties per state. The state with the fewest counties is Delaware (3—alone in the United States, these are divided into units called 'hundreds'), and the state with the most is Texas (254).[7] Southern and Midwestern states generally tend to have more counties than Western or Northeastern states. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have abolished county governments in whole or in part, though the former county territories may be observed in the three states' state-level administrative districts.

  • 254 – Texas, average county pop. approx. 98,000
  • 159 – Georgia, average county pop. approx. 62,000
  • 134 – Virginia[8], average county pop. approx. 59,000
  • 120 – Kentucky, average county pop. approx. 36,000
  • 115 – Missouri, average county pop. approx. 52,000
  • 105 – Kansas, average county pop. approx 27,000
  • 102 – Illinois, average county pop. approx. 126,000
  • 100 – North Carolina, average county pop. approx. 94,000
  • 99 – Iowa, average county pop. 31,000
  • 95 – Tennessee, average county pop. approx. 66,000
  • 93 – Nebraska, average county pop. approx. 19,000
  • 92 – Indiana, average county pop. approx. 70,000
  • 88 – Ohio, average county pop. approx. 131,000
  • 87 – Minnesota, average county pop. approx. 52,000
  • 83 – Michigan, average county pop. approx. 120,000
  • 82 – Mississippi, average county pop. approx. 36,000
  • 77 – Oklahoma average county pop. approx. 48,000
  • 75 – Arkansas, average county pop. approx. 39,000
  • 72 – Wisconsin, average county pop. approx. 79,000
  • 67 – Pennsylvania,average county pop. approx. 188,000
  • 67 – List of counties in Florida, average county pop. approx. 277.000
  • 67 – Alabama, average county pop. approx. 70,000
  • 66 – South Dakota, average county pop. approx. 12,000
  • 64 – Parishes in Louisiana, average county (parish) pop. approx. 70,000
  • 64 – Colorado, average county pop. approx. 79,000
  • 62 – New York, average county pop. approx. 315,000.
  • 58 – California, average county pop. approx. 637,000.
  • 56 – Montana, average county pop. approx. 17,000
  • 55 – West Virginia,average county pop. approx. 33,000
  • 53 – North Dakota, average county pop. approx. 12,000
  • 46 – South Carolina, average county pop. approx. 99,000
  • 44 – Idaho, average county pop. approx. 35,000
  • 39 – Washington, average county pop. approx. 171,000
  • 36 – Oregon, average county pop. approx. 98,000
  • 33 – New Mexico, average county pop. approx. 61,000
  • 29 – Utah, average county pop. approx. 96,000
  • 24 – Maryland, average county pop. approx. 237,000
  • 23 – Wyoming, average county pop. approx. 24,000
  • 21 – New Jersey, average county pop. approx. 415,000
  • 18 Organized Boroughs in Alaska, average county (census borough) pop. approx. 37,000
  • 17 – Nevada, average county pop. approx. 155,000
  • 16 – Maine, average county pop. approx. 82,000
  • 15 – Arizona, average county pop. approx. 440,000
  • 14 – Vermont, average county pop. approx. 44,000
  • 14 – Massachusetts, average county pop. approx. 471,000
  • 10 – New Hampshire, average county pop. approx. 132,000
  • 8 – Connecticut, average county pop. approx. 440,000
  • 5 – Rhode Island, average county pop. approx. 211,000
  • 5 – Hawaii, average county pop. approx. 259,000
  • 3 – Delaware, average county pop. approx. 295,000

Source:[1]

Statistics

A highway sign designating the border between Nicholas and Greenbrier counties in West Virginia along a secondary road.

At the 2000 U.S. Census, the median land area of the 3,077 U.S. counties was 622 sq mi (1,611 km²), which is only two-thirds of the median land area of a ceremonial county of England, and only a little more than a quarter of the median land area of a French département. However, this figure does not account for the differences among the United States counties themselves; counties in the western United States have a much larger mean land area than those in the eastern United States. For example, the median land area of counties in Georgia is 343 sq mi (888 km²), whereas in Utah it is 2,427 sq mi (6,286 km²).

The largest county equivalent by (total) area is Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska, at 147,843 square miles (382,912 km²), while the largest actual county is San Bernardino County, California, in southern California, which includes the Mojave Desert, at 20,105 square miles (52,071 km²) in area. The second-largest county is Coconino County, Arizona, in the north-central part of the state, which includes the Grand Canyon National Park. The smallest county equivalent is the independent city of Falls Church, Virginia, at 2.2 square miles (5.7 km²) in area, while the smallest actual county is Kalawao County, Hawaii, at 13 square miles (34 km²) in land area.[1]

At the 2000 U.S. Census, only 16.7% of U.S. counties had more than 100,000 inhabitants. This reflects the essentially rural nature of U.S. counties, whose grid was designed in the 19th century in a country still largely rural, and only marginally affected by urbanization. Today, the vast majority of people in the United States are concentrated in a relatively small number of counties. The most populous county equivalent is Los Angeles County, California, with 10,226,506 inhabitants as of 2005, and the least populous county is Loving County, Texas, with 67 inhabitants as of 2005.

The most densely populated county (or county equivalent) is New York County, New York (coextensive with the Borough of Manhattan and consisting of Manhattan Island, a neighborhood originally on the island but now physically attached to The Bronx, and very small adjacent islands), with 66,940 people per square mile (25,846 per km², or 38.691 square meters per person) as of 2000, and the least densely populated county is Lake and Peninsula Borough, Alaska, with 0.0767 people per square mile (0.0296 per km², or 33.768 km² per person) as of 2000. The least densely populated county equivalent is Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska, with 0.0449 per square mile (0.0173 per km², or 57.683 km² per person) as of 2000.

County equivalents

The term county equivalents includes three additional types of administrative divisions which are different from the type of county found in most states:

  • Alaska census areas: Most of the land area of Alaska is not contained within any of Alaska's 18 boroughs. This vast area, larger than France and Germany combined, is officially referred to by the Alaska state government as the Unorganized Borough, and, outside of other incorporated borough limits, has no independent "county" government, although several incorporated city governments exist within its boundaries; the majority of it is governed and run by the State of Alaska as an extension of state government.A[›] The United States Census Bureau, in cooperation with the Alaska state government for census and electoral districting purposes, has divided the Unorganized Borough into 11 census areas for statistical purposes only.B[›]
  • Independent cities: These are cities that legally belong to no county. As of 2004, there are 42 such cities in the United States: Baltimore, Maryland; Carson City, Nevada; St. Louis, Missouri; and all 39 cities in Virginia, where any municipality incorporated as a city (in contrast to town) is by law severed from any county that might otherwise have contained it.[9]
  • Washington, D.C. has a special status. It is not part of any state; instead, in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, the city is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. For a long time, the District of Columbia and the City of Washington have been coterminous, though they formerly were not. All of the former counties within the District of Columbia have been abolished, and they are of historical interest only.

Cities and counties

In general, cities occupy a smaller area than the county which contains them. However, there are exceptions:

See also

Notes

^ A: The Unorganized Borough, Alaska formed by the Borough Act of 1961 is a legal entity, run by the Alaska state government as an extension of State government,[10] it and the independently incorporated Unified, Home Rule, First Class and Second Class boroughs roughly correspond to parishes in Louisiana and to counties in the other 48 states.[11]
^ B: These 11 statistical areas are used solely by the United States Census Bureau to tabulate population and other census statistics within the Unorganized Borough; they have no legal basis in Alaska state or federal law other than for electoral representation and federal financial assistance purposes.

References

  1. ^ a b c d "An Overview of County Government". National Association of Counties. http://www.naco.org/Content/NavigationMenu/About_Counties/County_Government/A_Brief_Overview_of_County_Government.htm. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  2. ^ Osborne M. Reynolds, Jr., Handbook of Local Government Law, 2nd ed. (St. Paul, MN: West Group, 2001), 26.
  3. ^ Kane, Joseph Nathan; Charles Curry Aiken (2004). The American Counties: Origins of County Names, Dates of Creation, and Population Data, 1950-2000. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. vii-xii. ISBN 978-0810850361. 
  4. ^ a b Osborne M. Reynolds, Jr., Local Government Law, 3rd ed. (St. Paul: West, 2009), 19.
  5. ^ Kane, Joseph Nathan; Charles Curry Aiken (2004). The American Counties: Origins of County Names, Dates of Creation, and Population Data, 1950-2000. The Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. vii-xii. ISBN 978-0810850361. 
  6. ^ Unlike in Massachusetts, Connecticut's regional councils do not conform to the old county lines, but rather, they are composed of towns that share the same geographic region and have similar demographics.
  7. ^ "How Many Counties are in Your State?". Click and Learn. http://www.clickandlearn.cc/FreeBlacklineMaps/Counties.htm. Retrieved 2009-08-26. 
  8. ^ http://www.virginiaplaces.org/vacount/index.html
  9. ^ "County & County Equivalent Areas". United States Census Bureau. April 19, 2005. http://www.census.gov/geo/www/cob/co_metadata.html. Retrieved 2007-12-08. 
  10. ^ "Alaska Statutes Title 29 Chapter 03. The Unorganized Borough". Local Government On-Line, Division of Community and Regional Affairs, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. August 18, 1998. http://www.commerce.alaska.gov/dca/LOGON/pubs/29_03.htm. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  11. ^ "Local Government in Alaska" (PDF). Local Boundary Commission, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. February 2001. http://www.commerce.state.ak.us/dca/lbc/pubs/Local_Gov_AK.pdf. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 

External links


Genealogy

Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Familypedia

A county of the United States is a local level of government smaller than a state but almost always larger than a city or town, in a U.S. state or territory. The word "county" is used in 48 of the 50 states, while Louisiana uses the term "parish" and Alaska uses the word "borough." Including those, there are 3,077 counties in the US, an average of 62 counties per state. The state with the fewest counties is Delaware (three), and the state with the most is Texas (254). In many states, counties are subdivided into townships or towns and may contain other independent, self-governing municipalities. The site of a county's administration and courts is called the county seat.

The U.S. Census Bureau lists 3,141 counties or county-equivalent administrative units. The power of the county government varies widely from state to state, as does the relationship between counties and incorporated municipal governments.[1]

Contents

Terminology

The term county equivalents includes three additional types of administrative divisions which are different from the type of county found in most states:

  1. Alaska census areas: Most of the land area of Alaska is not contained within any of Alaska's 16 boroughs. This vast area, larger than France and Germany combined, is referred to by the Alaska state government as the Unorganized Borough and, outside municipal limits, has no local government. The United States Census Bureau, in cooperation with the Alaska state government, has divided the Unorganized Borough into 11 census areas for statistical purposes.
  2. Independent cities: These are cities that legally belong to no county in a state. As of 2004, there are 42 such cities in the United States:
    • Baltimore, Maryland
    • Carson City, Nevada
    • St. Louis, Missouri
    • All 39 cities in Virginia, where any municipality incorporated as a city (in contrast to town) is by law severed from any county that might otherwise have contained it.
  3. The District of Columbia, a federal district under the absolute jurisdiction of the US Congress, which has for the last several decades allowed the District limited home rule.

City-county exceptions

As noted, the territory of most counties includes that of municipalities, within and smaller than the respective counties. However, there are some exceptions to this arrangement:

  1. By a series of annexations or other mergers, a city government may come to have exactly the same territory as the county that contains it, even though they remain separate governments. This is nearly the case in Jacksonville, Florida, which has incorporated all of Duval County except for four smaller suburban cities.
  2. Several cities and counties around the country have consolidated city-county governments and are considered both a city and a county under state law. Denver, Colorado and San Francisco, California have been coextensive with their respective counties since the counties were created. On the other hand, Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Lexington, Kentucky; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Nashville, Tennessee unified with their respective counties after the two entities existed separately. There is also the "City and County of Honolulu", but this is unlike the others in that Hawaii has no incorporated cities and thus the "city" part of "city and county" is in this case a misnomer. Honolulu County contains the entire island of Oahu, which includes many dozens of communities and rural areas in addition to the urban area designated as the Honolulu CDP. Prior to its abolition in 1999, the government of Suffolk County, Massachusetts was largely administered by the Boston city council. In Nantucket County, Massachusetts, the Town of Nantucket board of selectmen act as county commissioners. The City and County of Broomfield in Colorado was created by a state constitutional amendment in 2001 because Broomfield existed in Adams, Boulder, Jefferson and Weld Counties. Broomfield is now a City and County, as is Denver.[1]
  3. The area now forming the five boroughs of New York City consisted, into the late 19th century, of three typical counties and parts of two others, each containing at least one city or town. These are still counties in name and in state law; nevertheless, since 1898 they have been entirely contained within the boundaries of the city, and following the creation of Bronx County in 1914, each borough now corresponds to one county.
  4. In several states (including Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin), a city may annex land within an adjacent county. That land is then subject to city government, but the respective counties continue to provide county-specific services and residents vote for county officials in the respective counties. Major cities that lie in multiple counties include: Abilene, Texas; Amarillo, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The city of Appleton, Wisconsin lies within three counties (Outagamie, Calumet, and Winnebago), and is the county seat of Outagamie County. The city of Aurora, Illinois, a populous outlying suburb of Chicago, lies within four counties (Kane; DuPage; Will; and Kendall). The city of Dallas, Texas is in five counties: Dallas, Collin, Denton, Rockwall, and Kaufman.
  5. There are many cities that span county boundaries in Michigan, including its capital, Lansing. For a few years during the early 1970s, split cities briefly had authority to petition to change the county boundaries to accord with the city boundaries. The only city to take advantage of this brief opportunity was New Baltimore (previously split between Macomb County and St. Clair County; now completely in Macomb). This transfer of territory from St. Clair to Macomb was the first and only county boundary change in Michigan since the early 20th century.
  6. The city of Takoma Park, Maryland, which was originally part of both Prince George's County and Montgomery County, chose in a referendum to become wholly part of Montgomery County.
  7. Some of Alaska's boroughs have merged with their principal cities. These are known as unified city-boroughs. Due to the size of Alaskan boroughs, this has resulted in some of Alaska's cities, such as Sitka, ranking among the geographically largest cities in the world.

Statistics

At the 2000 U.S. Census, the median land area of the 3,077 U.S. counties was 1,611 km² (622 sq. miles), which is only two-thirds of the median land area of a ceremonial county of England, and only a little more than a quarter of the median land area of a French département.

This figure, however, hides large differences between the eastern and western United States. The land area of counties in the western United States is much larger than the land area of counties in the eastern United States. For example, in the eastern United States the median land area of counties in Ohio is 1,138 km² (439.5 sq. miles) and in Georgia it is 888 km² (343 sq. miles), whereas in the western United States the median land area of counties in California is 3,977 km² (1535.5 sq. miles) and in Utah it is 6,286 km² (2,427 sq. miles) thisis big

By area, the largest county in the United States is North Slope Borough, Alaska at 94,763 square miles (245,435 km²) and the smallest county in the United States is Kalawao County, Hawaii at 13 square miles (34 km²). The largest county in the 48 contiguous states is San Bernardino County, California, at 20,105 mi²/52,073 km², and the smallest is New York County, New York at 22.96 mi²/59.47 km².

However, when county equivalents are included, both lose their status. The largest county equivalent by area is Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska at 147,843 square miles (382,912 km²) and the smallest is the independent city of Falls Church, Virginia at 2.0 square miles (5 km²).

At the 2000 U.S. Census, the median population of the 3,077 U.S. counties was 24,544 inhabitants, which is 1/33 as many inhabitants as the median population of a ceremonial county of England, and 1/21 as many inhabitants as the median population of a French département.

At the 2000 U.S. Census, only 16.1% of U.S. counties had more than 100,000 inhabitants, while 83.9% of U.S. counties had less than 100,000 inhabitants. This reflects the essentially rural nature of U.S. counties, whose grid was designed in the 19th century, in a country still largely rural and only marginally affected by urbanization. Today, the vast majority of people in the United States are concentrated in a relatively small number of counties.

The most populous county (or county equivalent) is Los Angeles County, California with 10,226,506 people as of 2005, and the least populous county is Loving County, Texas with 60 people as of 2005.

The most densely populated county (or county equivalent) is New York County, New York (coextensive with the Borough of Manhattan, and consisting primarily of Manhattan island) with 66,940 people per square mile (ppsm) as of 2000, and the least densely populated county is Lake and Peninsula Borough, Alaska with 0.08 ppsm as of 2000. The least densely populated county equivalent is Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area, Alaska with 0.04 ppsm as of 2000.

Scope of power

The power of county governments varies widely from state to state, as does the relationship between counties and incorporated cities. The government of the county usually resides in a municipality called the county seat. However, some counties have zero or multiple seats.

  • In New York:
    • In contrast to other counties of New York state, the powers of the five boroughs of New York City are very limited, and in nearly all respects subordinate to the city's.
  • In New England:
    • Counties function at most as judicial court districts (in Connecticut and Rhode Island, they have lost even those functions) and most government power below the state level is in the hands of towns and cities. However, in several of Maine's sparsely populated counties, small towns rely on the county for law enforcement, and in New Hampshire several social programs are administered at the state level.
    • County government was abolished in Connecticut in 1960, although the names remain for geographical purposes.
    • Massachusetts has abolished eight of its fourteen counties as well, leaving only those in the Southeastern part of the state with real governments, though vestigial judicial and law enforcement districts still follow the old county boundaries.
  • In Hawaii:
    • The county is the municipal level of government, similar to some single tier municipalities in Ontario, Canada (EX: Norfolk County, Prince Edward County, Brant County); there are no incorporated cities other than the consolidated City & County of Honolulu. No formal level of government below that of the county exists in Hawaii.
  • In California:
    • The county is the default unit of local government (all parts of the state's land are allocated to one of the state's 58 counties). Each county has a Board of Supervisors and is subject to mandatory duties under state law to provide its residents with services like law enforcement, healthcare, road maintenance, and so on. Balancing a county's mandatory and discretionary duties is a very difficult task; any sufficiently injured county taxpayer has standing to sue the county to enforce certain duties where financial distress is no excuse, such as healthcare.
    • If residents of a sufficiently large piece of unincorporated county land do not like their county's resource allocation decisions, they can incorporate a city. The city government then takes some of the tax revenue that would have gone to the county, and can impose additional taxes on its residents. It can then choose to provide almost all the services usually provided by the county (and more), or provide only a few and pay the county to do the rest. A city in this last arrangement is called a contract city; this type of contract is generally known among lawyers as the "Lakewood Plan," because it was pioneered by the city of Lakewood in 1954.[2]
    • The idea of "opting out" of county control in California has been taken to its logical extremes. Almost all of the city of Vernon is one large industrial zone, while almost all of the town of Los Altos Hills is zoned as residential.
    • Due to geographical variations in property tax and sales tax revenue (the primary revenue source for cities and counties) and differing attitudes towards priorities, there are interesting variations in the levels of various services from one city to the next. For example, the city of Santa Monica is far more generous when it comes to helping the homeless than other cities in Los Angeles County or the county government.
    • Also, county ordinances do not apply to cities unless they are ratified by each individual city. Thus, for instance, in Los Angeles County, a few cities have not ratified the ordinance requiring the posting of restaurant food safety ratings — even though it was passed many years ago — and in those cities, ratings need not be posted.
  • In Maryland:
    • Outside of Baltimore, which is an independent city, the county is the default unit of local government. Under Maryland law, counties exercise powers reserved in most other states at the municipal or state levels; hence, there is little incentive for a community to incorporate, especially in the urbanized home-rule counties. Many of the state's most populous and economically important communities, such as Bethesda and Silver Spring, are unincorporated and receive their municipal services from the county. In fact, there are no incorporated municipalities at all in either Baltimore County or Howard County.
    • The county (or Baltimore City) is also the provider of public schools. School districts as a separate level of government do not exist in Maryland.
  • In Texas:
    • The county controls all unincorporated land within its boundaries; however, counties do not have home rule authority (thus, it is frequent to see property with buildings in disrepair, junked vehicles, or overgrown lots in unincorporated areas). The county is responsible for providing essential services (except for fire and ambulance, which are often done by volunteer fire departments).
    • Incorporated cities are responsible for providing essential services, and may contract with the county for such (often the case with very small towns). Only cities larger than 5,000 population may elect home rule. There is no provision for consolidated city-county government, but contracts (called "interlocal agreements") between the city, county, and other governmental entities are permitted.
    • School districts are independent of county and city government (with the exception of the Stafford district, which is city controlled).
  • In most western states:
    • The county controls all unincorporated land within its boundaries. In states with a township tier, unincorporated land is controlled by the township. Residents of unincorporated land who are dissatisfied with county-level or township-level resource allocation decisions can incorporate as a city or village. In turn, depending on the state, the city or village government can then choose to provide all its own services, or provide only some and allow the county to provide the rest. Usually, the key difference between "city" and "village" is that a city must provide all of its own services and equivalent county authorities have no jurisdiction without the city's permission; while villages (which remain subject to township governments in those states that have them), being usually rural or semi-rural jurisdictions, are typically required to provide only those services that they can, with the rest being provided by the county or township.

Outside New England, counties typically maintain law enforcement agencies, public utilities, library systems, collect vital statistics and prepare, and/or process the state, certificates of births, deaths, marriages, and dissolutions (divorce decrees). In some states, the county sheriff is the principal law enforcement officer in the county, usually limited to areas outside the jurisdiction of cities and towns. In parts of the U.S., counties are "policed" by sheriffs, and cities by police departments. In other areas, county law enforcement is called "County Police" with county sheriffs providing court services.

Lists of counties by state

Main article: List of Counties of the United States

Lists of counties in the United States
(parishes in Louisiana; boroughs and census areas in Alaska)

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming

Number of counties per state

Southern and Midwestern states generally tend to have more counties than Western or Northeastern states. Three states, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts have abolished some or all of their county governments. The list below also includes county-equivalents.

Special cases

The power of the county government varies widely from state to state, as does the relationship between counties and incorporated municipal governments.

  • In Alaska, the borough is what would be a county in other states (apart from Louisiana). Five consolidated city-county governments exist—Juneau City and Borough, City and Borough of Haines, Sitka City and Borough, Yakutat City and Borough as well as the state's largest city, Anchorage. Though its legal name is the Municipality of Anchorage, it is considered a consolidated city-borough under state law. Unique to Alaska, not all of the land area of the state is divided into boroughs. The remainder, comprising over half of Alaska's land area, is called the Unorganized Borough and, outside municipalities, services are provided by the state. The United States Census Bureau has divided the Unorganized Borough into census areas for statistical purposes.
  • The state of California has one consolidated city-county, San Francisco. The city's board of supervisors govern both aspects, and there is both a city police department and a county sheriff, the latter mostly responsible for operating the county jail.
  • Colorado has two consolidated city-counties—Denver and Broomfield.
  • In Georgia, four consolidated city-counties exist—Athens (Clarke County), Augusta (Richmond County), Columbus (Muscogee County), and Cusseta (Chattahoochee County).
  • In Kansas, Wyandotte County and the city of Kansas City, Kansas operate as a unified government.
  • The two largest cities in Kentucky, Louisville and Lexington, are "urban-county governments," Kentucky's legal term for a consolidated city-county arrangement. Lexington and Fayette County are completely consolidated. When the Louisville Metro government was formed, all incorporated cities in Jefferson County, apart from Louisville, retained their status as cities; however, the Louisville Metro Council is the main government for the entire county, and is elected by residents in all of Jefferson County.
  • In Louisiana, parish is the name used instead of county. As such, the parish seat would be the equivalent of the county seat. The city of New Orleans is coterminous with, and identical to, Orleans Parish. In Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish is governed by a Metropolitan Council, which consists of 12 council members from all areas in the parish, including the cities of Baker, Central and Zachary, unincorporated areas of Baton Rouge, as well as the city limits of Baton Rouge. The executive branch is led by a Mayor-President who is elected from the entire parish. Baker, Central and Zachary also have their separate municipal governments. Lafayette also operates as a unified government, with a parish president and council representing all of Lafayette Parish, including the cities of Carencro, Lafayette and Youngsville. The city of Houma's powers of government have been absorbed by Terrebonne Parish, which is now run by the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government.
  • In Maryland, the City of Baltimore generally possesses the same powers and responsibilities as the counties within the state. It is an entity lying geographically within, but separate from, the County of Baltimore, which has its county seat in Towson.
  • In Missouri, St. Louis City is separate from St. Louis County and is referred to as a "city not within a county."
  • Montana has two consolidated city-counties—Anaconda with Deer Lodge County and Butte with Silver Bow County. The portion of Yellowstone National Park that lies within Montana was not part of any county until 1997, when part of it was nominally added to Gallatin County, and the rest of it to Park County.
  • Nevada's state capital of Carson City has been an independent city since 1969.
  • In some New England states, such as Connecticut, parts of Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, counties are only geographic designations and do not have any governmental powers. All government is either done at the state level or at the municipal (town or city) level.
  • New York City encompasses five counties, and is the county seat of all five of them: New York County (Manhattan), Kings County (Brooklyn), Bronx County (The Bronx), Richmond County (Staten Island), and Queens County (Queens). Because each borough has a separate main post office (and Queens has four), the county seats of the five boroughs are often stated in terms of those main post offices: New York (Manhattan), Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, and Jamaica (Queens), NY. However, the communities served by those main post offices are all within the city limits of New York.
  • In Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia is coterminous with Philadelphia County, and governmental functions have been consolidated since 1854.
  • In Tennessee, the city of Nashville and Davidson County operate under a unified government. Similar arrangements exist between the City of Lynchburg and Moore County, as well as the City of Hartsville and Trousdale County.
  • In Virginia, many county seats are politically not a part of the counties they serve; under Virginia law, all municipalities incorporated as cities are independent cities and are not part of any county. Some of the cities in the Hampton Roads area (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Newport News, Hampton, and Suffolk) were formed from an entire county. These cities are no longer county seats, since the counties ceased to exist once the cities were completely formed, but are functionally equivalent to counties.

External links

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Simple English

A county, in the United States, is a form of government that is right below the state. 48 out of the 50 states in the United States uses counties. Louisiana uses parishes while Alaska uses bouroughs.[1] Both of these are equal to the county. The list that the U.S. Census Bureau keeps that lists all of the counties in the United States says that there are 3,481 counties or other kinds of divisions that are equal to the county in the United States.[needs proof]

The midwestern and northeastern states in the United States divides the county further into townships or towns, some of which house municipalities. The place where the government and courts for the town is called the county seat.

On average, a county in the United States has a population of around 100,000 people.[needs proof] The county that has the most people living in it is Los Angeles County, California. Around 9.8 million people live there.[needs proof] The county that has the least amount of people living in it is Loving County, Texas, with only 67 people living in the entire county.

The average number of counties in each state is 62. Delaware has the least amount of counties with only 3 counties. Texas has the most counties with 254. [2]

These pages list all of the counties in each state:

  • 254 – Texas
  • 159 – Georgia
  • 134 – Virginia [3]
  • 120 – Kentucky
  • 115 – Missouri
  • 105 – Kansas
  • 102 – Illinois
  • 100 – North Carolina
  • 99 – Iowa
  • 95 – Tennessee
  • 93 – Nebraska
  • 92 – Indiana
  • 88 – Ohio
  • 87 – Minnesota
  • 83 – Michigan
  • 82 – Mississippi
  • 77 – Oklahoma
  • 75 – Arkansas
  • 72 – Wisconsin
  • 67 – Pennsylvania
  • 67 – Florida [4]
  • 67 – Alabama
  • 66 – South Dakota
  • 64 – Louisiana
  • 64 – Colorado
  • 62 – New York
  • 58 – California
  • 56 – Montana
  • 55 – West Virginia
  • 53 – North Dakota
  • 46 – South Carolina
  • 44 – Idaho
  • 39 – Washington
  • 36 – Oregon
  • 33 – New Mexico
  • 29 – Utah
  • 27 – Alaska
  • 24 – Maryland
  • 23 – Wyoming
  • 21 – New Jersey
  • 17 – Nevada
  • 16 – Maine
  • 15 – Arizona
  • 14 – Vermont
  • 14 – Massachusetts
  • 10 – New Hampshire
  • 8 – Connecticut
  • 5 – Rhode Island
  • 5 – Hawaii
  • 3 – Delaware
[1]

Notes

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