Reorganization of County Government

February 24, 1939

Report Outline
County Reform Plans in State Legislatures
Present Pattern of County Government
County Home-Rule Movement in the States
Reorganization of County Administration

County Reform Plans in State Legislatures

The administrative machinery of many state and city governments has been drastically modified in recent years to promote more efficient management of public services under modern conditions, but the governmental organization of all except a handful of the 3,058 counties in the United States has remained fundamentally unchanged since these units were originally created, many of them in colonial times. Indeed, the structure of county government in some states closely resembles the forms established in the English shires after the Norman conquest. In a very real sense, the county remains the “dark continent” of American government.

Economic stresses and strains during the depression gave rise, however, to county reform movements in a number of states, and the successful operation of new types of government in a few counties in California, North Carolina, and Virginia has aroused much interest elsewhere. Within the last few years, New York, Ohio, and Texas have given counties the power to reorganize their governmental machinery (although only in New York state has this power been used), while several states have authorized adjoining counties to consolidate. Still other states have made improvements in county government piecemeal——through abolition of outmoded county offices, establishment of budget systems, introduction of civil service systems, installation of new tax assessment and collection procedures, or revision of auditing and accounting methods.

Current County Manager and Consolidation Schemes

Various types of proposals for reform of county government are under consideration in many of the 43 state legislatures now meeting in regular session. A resolution to initiate a constitutional amendment permitting adoption of the county manager plan by any of the state's 62 counties was recently offered in the Colorado legislature. Similar amendments applying to Douglas County (Omaha), Nebraska, and Jefferson County (Birmingham), Alabama, have been offered in the legislatures of those states. An amendment authorizing: enactment of legislation providing optional forms of government for Pennsylvania counties was approved by the state legislature in 1937 and if approved a second time this year will be submitted to the voters for ratification.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
State and Local Governments
Feb. 26, 2021  State Finances
Sep. 11, 2009  State Budget Crisis
Oct. 03, 2003  State Budget Crises
Dec. 24, 1971  State Legislatures in Transition
Sep. 25, 1968  State Constitutional Reform
Oct. 11, 1967  Local Government Modernization
Aug. 15, 1956  Metropolitan Government
May 25, 1939  Reorganization of City Government
Feb. 24, 1939  Reorganization of County Government
May 23, 1938  Reorganization of State Governments
Oct. 29, 1937  State Control of Local Government
Sep. 01, 1936  Consolidation of Local Governments
Jan. 03, 1933  Reorganization of Local Government
Jun. 02, 1930  Changes in American City Government
Oct. 30, 1924  Political Statistics of the States
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations