Role of County

Counties, in their infancy, were organized to be administrative agencies of the state as well as local governments. Traditionally, counties performed state mandated duties which included assessment of property, record keeping (i.e., property and vital statistics), maintenance of rural roads, administration of election and judicial functions, maintaining peace in rural areas, and poor relief.

In addition to serving as an administrative arm of the state, counties rapidly moved into other areas of government support, including social services, corrections, child protection, library services, hospitals and nursing homes, public health services, planning and zoning, economic development, parks and recreation, water quality, and solid waste management.

Boards of Commissioners are the governing bodies of Minnesota’s counties. County commissioner are elected by district, serve a four-year term that are staggered among the board (not all elected at the same time), and are responsible for the operation of the county and the delivery of county services. The number of commissioners on a county board is five.

County commissioners are the elected officials who oversee county activities and work to ensure that citizen concerns are met, federal and state requirements are fulfilled, and county operations run smoothly.

Other elective offices of county government include county attorney and county sheriff. Many counties have reduced the number of elected officials in their counties.

Each county provides its own unique mix of a broad range of services, including street maintenance, garbage pick-up, landfills, hospitals, libraries, parks and recreation, police and fire protection and water and sewer facilities.

An overview of the variety of services provided by counties across the country can be seen here.
Minnesota Counties also provide extensive health and human services as the administrative entity responsible for the delivery of these services. For some counties, providing such services is relatively new and reflects the shifting and expanding responsibilities counties and county commissioners must undertake.

In Minnesota, local governments derive the majority of their funding from property taxes and from state and federal grants. Fees, fines, forfeitures, sale of public lands, investments and special assessments are other revenue sources that augment these major revenue sources.