Basics of County Government
A county is one of the chief administrative divisions of a state. Every state in the US has the equivalent of the county government, although in some states they are called Townships or Parishes. Counties manage many vital services, especially for those people who live or own property outside of city limits. Depending on the size of the county it may have as few as 10, or as many as 40 or 50, departments that offer information and services to people who live, work and own property there. There are a few departments which are of particular interest to people who own land:
Recorder: Sometimes known as Auditor or the County Clerk, this department is responsible mainly for record keeping. All land ownership deeds are sent first to the County Recorder to be stamped and cataloged so that the documents can be easily found later. In some counties this department is also responsible for election results and other records.
Assessor: Sometimes called the Appraiser, this department is responsible for assigning value to all property in the county. Some counties keep track of market values, and their assessed value is based on a percentage of that market value. Some counties have their own system for figuring out assessed value, which is based on the size and location of the property rather than market sales.
Treasurer: This department is responsible for collecting property taxes. These are the people who will be mailing you your tax bill, although the amount is calculated on the assessed value assigned to your property by the Assessor.
Planning and Zoning: This department is responsible for keeping track of property uses and zoning codes. They might be in charge of the urban growth boundary, issuing building permits and code violations. Sometimes planning, zoning, community development, building permits and code enforcement are combined into one department, but in larger counties they are often separated into several different departments.
Roads: This department is responsible for maintaining county roads. Most paved roads in rural areas are repaired, monitored and maintained by the county roads department. Sometimes they will also maintain gravel and dirt roads, although those are often kept up by the owners in the area. County governments also maintain the sheriff’s department, county school districts and health and emergency services, which might include a county hospital or rural ambulance service. For those who own property outside of city limits, the county government is usually your best source for information and help.