(redirected from counties)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Financial, Idioms, Encyclopedia.


A political subdivision of a state, the power and importance of which varies from one state to another.

A county is distinguishable from a city or Municipal Corporation, since a municipal corporation has a dual character, both public and private, while a county is established by the state and is considered to be an agency thereof. Through home rule, a municipality may make certain decisions on matters of local concern, while a county is controlled by the state and does the work of state administration.

In the state of Louisiana, a state political subdivision is known as a parish. Comparable to counties, parishes have no independent existence apart from the state but possess only such authority as the state grants them.


The state constitution determines the procedures for the formation of a county. Certain states require a specific minimum size population or property value before a county is created. A county government that is too small can be either completely abolished or subject to a consolidation plan designed to merge urban and rural areas. Conversely, a county that becomes too large or diverse following an extended period of development can be divided by the state to form a new county.

The principle of Sovereign Immunity permits states to refuse to allow anyone to sue them. This doctrine protects counties from legal action to the same extent that the states they exist in are so protected. States and counties can only be sued where state law specifically permits it.


Ordinarily, the boundaries of a county are set by the state legislature. If a boundary is marked by a stream or river, the county extends to the center and remains there from the time of the county's creation, even if the stream subsequently changes course. When a lake is the boundary, the county line ordinarily extends to the bank or the low water mark. A boundary that is on the ocean extends to the three-mile limit offshore.

State law provides for the revision of the boundaries of counties. Certain state statutes proscribe the creation of a new county line too close to an already existing county seat. Ordinarily voters can petition for the expansion or division of a county where population and commercial growth justify it. Although citizens have no absolute right to prevent the alteration of county lines by state legislatures, the legislature cannot change boundaries for the purpose of diluting the voting power of some of the citizens in an election.

The state retains power to designate special districts for purposes of irrigation, flood control, fire protection, or library services, which do not affect the makeup of existing counties.


The government of a county is located at the county seat, a city or town where court sessions are held and duties are performed by county officers. The county board, comprised of public officials who are elected or appointed to serve on it, is the body that manages the government of the county. Other county officials include sheriffs, clerks, surveyors, and commissioners responsible for certain areas such as highways and Human Rights.

The state gives counties express authority to purchase and sell property and to raise funds from taxes, licenses, or bond issues. Counties have state-granted authority to make provisions for public health, safety, welfare, and morals of its residents through the enactment and enforcement of ordinances and regulations. The state, however, has the authority to make the decision whether to create courts on the county level or to use counties to designate intrastate judicial districts.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

COUNTY. A district into which a state is divided.
     2. The United States are generally divided into counties; counties are divided into townships or towns.
     3. In Pennsylvania the division of the province into three Counties, viz. Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester, was one of the earliest acts of William Penn, the original proprietary. There is no printed record of this division, or of the original boundaries of these counties. Proud says it was made about the year 1682. Proud's Hist. vol. 1 p. 234 vol. 2, p. 258.
     4. In some states, as Illinois; 1 Breese, R. 115; a county is considered as a corporation, in others it is only a quasi corporation. 16 Mass. R. 87; 2 Mass. R. 644 7 Mass. R. 461; 1 Greenl. R. 125; 3 Greenl. R. 131; 9 Greenl. R. 88; 8 John. R. 385; 3 Munf. R. 102. Frequent difficulties arise on the division of a county. On this subject, see 16 Mass. R. 86 6 J. J. Marsh. 147; 4 Halst. R. 357; 5 Watts, R. 87 1 Cowen, R. 550; 6 Cowen, R. 642; Cowen, R. 640; 4 Yeates, R. 399 10 Mass. Rep. 290; 11 Mass. Rep. 339.
     5. In the English law this word signifies the same as shire, county being derived from the French and shire from the Saxon. Both these words signify a circuit or portion of the realm, into which the whole land is divided, for the better government thereof, and the more easy administration of justice. There is no part of England that is not within some county, and the shire-reve, (sheriff) originally a yearly officer, was the governor of the county. Four of the counties of England, viz. Lancaster, Chester, Durham and Ely, were called counties Palatine, which were jurisdictions of a peculiar nature, and held by, especial charter from the king. See stat. 27 H. VIII. c. 25.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
It provides intermediate detail between counties and census blocks.
This had become a sticky problem as successive "Machinery Acts" in North Carolina reorganized tax collection procedures so as to enable counties to track down every taxable poll and property owner more effectively.
Officials in McCreary and Pulaski counties subsequently re-posted the commandments in their courthouses as part of larger displays containing other documents, among them the Bill of Rights and the Mayflower Compact.
However, towns in 6 of the 8 Connecticut counties received 1 to 10 reports of dead crows.
Cushman & Wakefield anticipates that rents will continue to rise in both counties. Specifically, the direct weighted average asking rental rate in Fairfield County's central business district will reach $30.08 per square foot by year-end 2000 and rise to $34.43 per square foot by year-end 2002, the firm predicts.
Comparing the total number of human WN virus cases and the dead crow densities by county for 2000 (Figure 1) allows three groups of NYS counties to be distinguished: Staten Island (10 human cases and 33.3 dead crows per square mile), the other boroughs in NYC and surrounding counties that had WN virus activity both in 1999 and 2000 ([is less than or equal to] 2 human cases and 3-12 dead crows per square mile for each county), and upstate New York (no human cases and [is less than] 1.0 dead crow per square mile).
The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently compared him to a "modern-day Moses hoping to lead Midwesterners into a promised land of high moral standards." Similarly, June Griffin from Dayton, Tenn., is crusading to get the Commandments posted in courthouses in all of Tennessee's 95 counties.
We describe a method that can improve the quality of surveillance data by identifying counties that submit lower numbers of animals for testing than their surrounding counties.
In Essex County, 52 properties sold, while Bergen and Passaic counties registered 29 and 21 sales, respectively.
While Class A space is scarce in the suburbs of lower Fairfield County, there is still an ample supply of Class B space in the Central Business Districts of Westchester and Fairfield counties, and an abundance of subleasing opportunities often the result of mergers and acquisitions that are forcing many companies to vacate their accommodations long before their leases expire - which are helping to hold the line on rents and absorption rates for Class A accommodations, and threatening the viability of speculative development.
Kessel Associates identified Sussex County as New Jersey's next evolving market for commercial development after searching other northern New Jersey counties for land to acquire or existing properties to redevelop.
Most counties, all but Grant and Yell, and most cities have their own local taxes of various rates, which lead to some interesting and possibly distorted figures.