A county is a subdivision of a state; in many states it has a government body that operates over a specific geographic area that includes cities, municipalities, townships, roads, parks and other entities. All but 2 states have counties or county equivalent, the states of Rhode Island and Connecticut while still having geographic divisions labeled as counties has abolished the county governments. The state of Alaska is organized into Boroughs, and the state of Louisiana is organized into parishes. The US federal Government considers these “county equivalents” Source Wikipedia.org.
The typical government structure for most states consists of state government which consists of a governor and legislators, city government which consists of mayors and city councils and county government which usually consists of a county commissioner and board. All of these are elected positions. Determining whether something is under the legal jurisdiction of the state, city or county can be confusing. The county structure and services are determined by each State, and there is considerable variation from state to state as to what gets handled by the county.
The following are typical services that may be provided at the county level:
- Plats and surveys
- Law enforcement
- Law administration
- Road construction and maintenance
- Social services
- Environmental and Waste monitoring
- Parks and recreation services
- Property tax assessment and collection
- Elections services
Many times the city, municipality, town or township do not have enough population to justify the resources to provide for its own services such as law enforcement, municipal road maintenance etc and will combine entities with the appropriate county to share services.
The type of records kept at the county level also vary, the following are typical in many states:
- Motor vehicle registration
- Criminal and court records
- Marriage licenses
- Divorce records
- Land ownership records
- Birth certificates
- Death certificates
- Building and Zoning permits
- Crime statistics
- Fingerprint records
Many of these records go back over 100 years; many records are still in a physical format such as paper or microfilm. Some counties have implemented a digitizing program for most of their records. Many counties have an enormous amount of resources devoted to record retention and maintenance. Retrieving physical records can be time consuming and very inefficient.
Many counties are now investing time and resources for scanning records and indexing them for efficient computer storage and retrieval. The effort for digitizing can be complex, but with today’s scanning technology, the process is probably much faster than you think. Many scanning companies such as Microfacs can provide resources to scan “on site” which saves the effort of packaging and shipping documents to another location. Regardless of how it is done, the return on investment should be very attractive and can make record retention safer as well as dramatically reduce the physical space needed.