Counties are one of America’s oldest forms of government, dating back to 1634 when the first county governments were established in Virginia. Ever since, county governments continue to evolve and adapt to changing responsibilities, environments and populations. Today, America’s 3,069 county governments invest nearly $500 billion each year in local services and infrastructure and employ more than 3.3 million people. Most importantly, county governments are focused on the fundamental building blocks for healthy, safe, resilient and vibrant communities:

  • Maintain public records and coordinate elections
  • Support and maintain public infrastructure, transportation and economic development assets
  • Provide vital justice, law enforcement and public safety services
  • Protect the public’s health and well-being, and
  • Implement a broad array of federal, state and local programs

No two counties are exactly the same. County governments are diverse in the ways we are structured and how we deliver services to our communities. The basic roles and responsibilities of our county governments are established by the states, including our legal, financial, program and policy authorities. Under “Dillon” rules, counties can only carry out duties and services specifically authorized by the state. Meanwhile, home rule or charter counties have more flexibility and authority.

In general, county governments are governed by a policy board of elected officials (often called county board, commission or council). Nationally, more than 19,300 individuals serve as elected county board members and elected executives. In addition, most counties also have a series of row officers or constitutional officers that are elected to serve, such as sheriffs, clerks, treasurers, auditors, public defenders, district attorneys and coroners.

Counties Invest Over

& Employ More than three million people

With more than 19,300 elected county board members & elected county executives


Transportation and Infrastructure

Transportation and infrastructure is a core public sector responsibility that drives our nation’s economic competitiveness and standard of living for all Americans. County governments invest more than $106 billion annually on vital public infrastructure. For transportation, counties own and maintain 45% of America’s roads and nearly 40% of bridges while also being involved in nearly one-third of all U.S. airports and transit systems. Counties play a major role in maintaining local jails and courthouses, as well as public hospitals, libraries, parks, solid waste and water and sewage systems.

Counties Own

& are involved in nearly one third of all airports & transit systems



County governments have significant responsibilities in most states for community health and healthcare. Counties create support systems to keep you healthy from the time you are born until the time you grow old. Many counties operate hospitals and health facilities that provide clinical services, cancer and cardiac care, and emergency and trauma care. County health departments ensure the everyday health of our residents and communities through preventive and crisis activities. Counties also often have significant responsibilities for behavioral and mental health services and care.

Counties Invest

Supporting 960 hospitals & more than 96K Hospital beds



Counties keep communities safe by providing law enforcement and promoting crime prevention. From patrolling and policing the streets, to operating and maintaining county detention facilities, to serving as the arm of the county courts, county sheriffs and police departments are the linchpin of the criminal justice system. The other key county players in the system are often judges, district attorneys, public defenders, court clerks, jail directors, 911 operators and coroners.

Counties Spend

& $16 billion on courts and legal services



Counties provide vital services to all Americans, from issuing birth certificates and marriage licenses to operating 911 call centers. Counties often build and maintain the parks, swimming pools, community centers and cultural centers where you spend time with family and friends. Counties are responsible for running elections, from presidential to local. While balancing numerous administrative responsibilities, counties deliver essential services to ensure healthy, safe and vibrant communities for our residents.

Counties Invest Nearly

& More than $9 billion on Parks & Recreation facilities, Libraries, swimming pools & community centers

Counties fund & oversee

Coordinating more than 692,000 poll workers

Interactive County Data



Counties Work

NACo, together with iCivics, has created an online game, "Counties Work," to educate students, grades 6 through 12, about the important role and functions of county government by letting them run their own county. A curriculum and web quest has also been developed to assist teachers with preparing lessons on county government.

Federal Policies Matter to Counties