Why Counties Matter

​Five Things to Know About Counties​
by Emilia Istrate & Anya Nowakowski
July 2013​

Part of the Why Counties Matter paper series


Counties are a​ $482 Billion Network of Public Service Providers

County governments provide essential services to create healthy, safe, vibrant and economically resilient communities.
  They build infrastructure, maintain roads and bridges, provide health care, administer justice, keep communities safe, run elections, manage solid waste, keep records and much more.  More than 19,300 elected board members and elected executives invest $482.1 billion annually to serve 296 million county residents across the country.  Counties are able to provide a vast array of services through the work of 3.3 million employees. 

Counties differ significantly in terms of governance, structure and responsibilities.  Counties are creatures of the states, which decide the degree of autonomy over county governance.  In 36 states, county governments exercise powers that are explicitly dictated by state law (the so-called “Dillon’s Rule”).  States can also allow counties to decide their own structure, functions and fiscal organization (home rule authority).  Many states implement a mix of home rule and Dillon’s rule.  

With increasingly limited resources, counties use innovation to better serve their communities and work together with federal, state and other local governments, nonprofits, and businesses to ensure the prosperity of their residents. 

County Authority: A State by State Report

County Government Structure: A State by State Report

Reshaping County Government: A Look at City-County Consolidations