United States

Local government in the United States

Local government in the United States is structured in accordance with the laws of the various individual states, territories, and the District of Columbia. Typically each state has at least two separate tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. Some states further have their counties divided into townships. There are several different types of local government at the municipal level, generally reflecting the needs of different levels of population densities; typical examples include the city, town, borough, and village. The types and nature of these municipal entities varies from state to state. Many rural areas and even some suburban areas of many states have no municipal government below the county level, while others do not operate under a distinct county government at all. In other places the different tiers are merged, for example as a consolidated city–county in which city and county functions are managed by a single municipal government, or in the case of towns in New England, which in some states have completely replaced the county as the unit of local government. In the United States Counties and Municipalities have acquired the right to enact special legislation which exceeds the legislation enacted by the states themselves; this is known as “Home Rule”. The guidelines of “Home Rule” as set by the governing Sovereign Entity – the State – vary from state to state, but always results in “Special and Excessive Legislation” being passed as applied to the local governing bodies jurisdiction.

The local governments described above are classified general purpose local governments by the United States Census Bureau. In addition, there are also often local or regional special purpose local governments.  Special purpose governments include special districts that exist for specific purposes, such as to provide fire protection, sewer service, transit service or to manage water resources, and in particular school districts to manage schools. Such special purpose districts often encompass areas in multiple municipalities.
The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution makes local government a matter of state rather than federal law, with special cases for territories and the District of Columbia. As a result, the states have adopted a wide variety of systems of local government. The United States Census Bureau conducts the Census of Governments every five years to compile statistics on government organization, public employment, and government finances. The categories of local government established in this Census of Governments is a convenient basis for understanding local government in the United States. The categories are as follows:
     1.     County Governments
     2.     Town or Township Governments
     3.     Municipal Governments
     4.     Special-Purpose Local Governments
County governments
County governments are organized local governments authorized in state constitutions and statutes. Counties and county-equivalents form the first-tier administrative division of the states.
All the states are divided into counties or county-equivalents for administrative purposes, although not all counties or county-equivalents have an organized county government. Connecticut and Rhode Island have completely eliminated county government, as have portions of Massachusetts. The Unorganized Borough in Alaska also does not operate under a county level government. Additionally, a number of independent cities and consolidated city-counties operate under a municipal government that serves the functions of both city and county.

In areas lacking a county government, services are provided either by lower level townships or municipalities, or the state.Town or township governments

Town or township governments are organized local governments authorized in the state constitutions and statutes of 20 Northeastern and Midwestern states,[1] established to provide general government for a defined area, generally based on the geographic subdivision of a county. Depending on state law and local circumstance, a township may or may not be incorporated, and the degree of authority over local government services may vary greatly.

Towns in the six New England states and townships in New Jersey and Pennsylvania are included in this category despite the fact that they are legally municipal corporations since their structure has no necessary relation to concentration of population, which is typical of municipalities elsewhere in the United States. In particular, towns in New England have considerably more power than most townships elsewhere and often function as independent cities in all but name, typically exercising the full range of powers that are divided between counties, townships, and cities in other states.
An additional dimension that distinguishes township governments from municipalities is the historical circumstance surrounding their formation. For example, towns in New England are also defined by a tradition of local government presided over by town meetings — assemblies open to all voters to express their opinions on public policy.
The term “town” is also used for the local level of government in parts of New York and Wisconsin. The terms “town” and “township” are used interchangeably in Minnesota.

Municipal governments

Municipal governments are organized local governments authorized in state constitutions and statutes, established to provide general government for a defined area, generally corresponding to a population center rather than one of a set of areas into which a county is divided. The category includes those governments designated as cities, boroughs (except in Alaska), towns (except in Minnesota and Wisconsin), and villages.This concept corresponds roughly to the “incorporated places” that are recognized in Census Bureau reporting of population and housing statistics, although the Census Bureau excludes New England towns from their statistics for this category, and the count of municipal governments excludes places that are governmentally inactive.

Municipalities range in size from the very small (e.g., the Village of Lazy Lake, Florida, with 38 residents), to the very large (e.g., New York City, with about 8 million people), and this is reflected in the range of types of municipal governments that exist in different areas.
In most states, county and municipal governments exist side-by-side. There are exceptions to this, however. In some states, a city can, either by separating from its county or counties or by merging with one or more counties, become independent of any separately functioning county government and function both as a county and as a city. Depending on the state, such a city is known as either an independent city or a consolidated city-county. Such a jurisdiction constitutes a county-equivalent and is analogous to a unitary authority in other countries. In Connecticut, Rhode Island, and parts of Massachusetts, counties exist only to designate boundaries for such state-level functions as park districts or judicial offices (Massachusetts). Municipal governments are usually administratively divided into several departments, depending on the size of the city. Though cities differ in the division of responsibility, the typical arrangement is to have the following departments handle the following roles:

1.               Urban planning/zoning

2.               Economic development/tourism

3.               Public works – construction and maintenance of all city-owned or operated assets, including the water supply system, sewer, streets, stormwater, snow removal, street cleaning, street signs, vehicles, buildings, land, etc.

4.               Parks and recreation – construction and maintenance of city parks, common areas, parkways, publicly owned land, operation of various recreation programs and facilities

5.                Police

6.               Fire

7.               Emergency medical services

8.               Emergency management

9.               Accounting/finance – often tax collection, audits

10.             Human resources – for city workers

11.             General counsel/city attorney/risk management – legal matters such as writing municipal bonds, ensuring city compliance with state and federal law, responding to citizen lawsuits stemming from city actions or inactions.

12.              Transportation (varies widely) – if the city has a municipal bus or light rail service, this function may be its own department or it may be folded into the another of the above departments.

13.             Information technology – supports computer systems used by city employees; may be also responsible for a city website, phones and other systems.

14.             Housing department

15.             Municipal courtSpecial-purpose local governments


School districts
School districts are organized local entities providing public elementary and secondary education which, under state law, have sufficient administrative and fiscal autonomy to qualify as separate governments. The category excludes dependent public school systems of county, municipal, township, or state governments (e.g., school divisions).
Special districts
Special districts are all organized local entities other than the four categories listed above, authorized by state law to provide only one or a limited number of designated functions, and with sufficient administrative and fiscal autonomy to qualify as separate governments; known by a variety of titles, including districts, authorities, boards, commissions, etc., as specified in the enabling state legislation. A special district may serve areas of multiple states if established by an interstate compact. Special districts are widely popular, have enjoyed “phenomenal growth” and “nearly tripled in number” from 1957 to 2007.

Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_government_in_the_United_States