Traditionally, counties performed state-mandated duties, which included assessment of property, record keeping (e.g., property and vital statistics), maintenance of rural roads, administration of election and judicial functions, and poor relief. Today, counties rapidly are moving into other areas, undertaking programs relating to child welfare, consumer protection, economic development, employment/training, planning and zoning, and water quality, to name just a few.
Service delivery responsibilities, however, vary widely among counties. For most, construction/maintaining local roads is one of their prime duties. North Carolina counties, however, have no responsibilities in this area. Wide variations also exist in the social service responsibilities and the types of utility services (e.g., water supply) provided by county governments.
That disparity is clearly demonstrated by a review of individual states and the percentage (of total expenditures) their counties spent on various services. For instance, counties in Virginia spent 55 percent of their total expenditures on educational services (including library services) in FY 2001-02. New Hampshire counties spent 67 percent on public welfare services in the same fiscal year. South Dakota counties spent 35 percent of their budget on transportation services for FY 2001-02, and Maine spent 56 percent of its budget on public safety that year.