Early state constitutions originally created counties to serve as the administrative arms of state government, performing state-mandated duties, including property assessment and record keeping. Organized county governments are found in most states. In general, counties have more mandates, less discretionary funds, and are more likely to be affected by state budgetary action.
Most municipalities have similar powers and perform similar functions. Geographically, municipalities lie within counties, although they may cross county boundaries. Today, the distinction between towns and cities is usually based on population size.
Township governments control areas without a minimum population concentration. Some townships have a municipal form of government. Others are commonly governed by an elected board of three to five part-time trustees and rely almost exclusively on property taxes for revenue.
Special districts are local entities authorized by state law to provide one or a limited number of designated functions. Their functions range from street lighting to a port authority with a large staff and project portfolio.
All special districts are governed by a board, which may be elected by the public or appointed. Some local governments that cannot finance public improvements without increasing taxes rely on special districts because special districts have several sources of revenue. They may have the authority to collect property taxes, impose service charges, accept grants, share taxes with other areas, or rely on other special assessments or taxes.
Also known as ad hoc governments, special districts can overcome jurisdictional, legal, and financial limitations of existing governments. Special districts have occasionally been created to evade constitutional tax and debt limits on local governments.
The public school systems in the United States are either defined as independent or dependent systems. Independent school systems are also known as school districts. These bodies are accountable for the service they provide, and they may use the powers of eminent domain and taxation. More than 80 percent of independent school systems are governed by an elected school board, board of trustees, board of education, or school committee. Dependent school systems are classified as agencies of the local, county, or state government.
When metropolitan areas encompass multiple counties and cities, or straddle state lines, governance becomes more complex leading to the development of cross-jurisdictional organizations called regional government, regional councils of local government, and regional multi-purpose or single purpose authorities.
Source: Types of Local US Governments
Copyright ©2021 National League of Cities. All Rights Reserved.