Counties are the oldest form of local government in America. The first counties in Missouri were established in 1812, even before Missouri became a state. Today, counties operate under state authority, providing public services to people and businesses.
Functions...Counties are general-purpose governments. This means that they are responsible for a large number of different activities. These activities or functions include:
- County Finance (example: collecting taxes)
- Law Enforcement (example: operating county jails)
- Road Building and Maintenance (example: snow removal)
- Land Use (example: planning and zoning)
- County Administration (example: operating voting booths)
Organization... The Missouri State Constitution divides its counties into four classes based on the total value of all property in the county. Generally, all counties within the same class have the same powers and duties under state law. First class counties can design their own governmental structure under a home rule charter.
Although every county government is somewhat unique, each county has both legislative and administrative positions. The two most common organizational models of county government in Missouri are described below.
- County Commission Model: Most counties in Missouri have a County Commission composed of three elected officials. One, the presiding commissioner, is elected county-wide and serves for four years. The other two associate commissioners represent half county districts and only serve a two year term. Commissioners have both legislative and executive functions.
- County Executive Model: Charter counties, which include Jackson, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis Counties, divide legislative and executive authority between a county council of 7 to 9 members; all have an elected County Executive. Under the County Executive model, the council makes the laws for the county, while the executive carries out the law. The County Executive is elected into office by voters of the entire county. Most of the council members are elected from districts within the county.
Many other administrative positions, both elected and appointed, are necessary to run a county government. Some of these positions include: Director of Highways and Traffic; Director of Public Works; Director of Parks; Director of Revenue, Director of Health; and many more.
County websites contain valuable information related to government and community. The St. Louis County website, for example, has wonderful information about the County Executive, County Council, and all its departments. The St. Charles County site shows its charter.
For a complete listing of all Missouri's county websites go to www.mocounties.com/ or you can simply “google” the county you’re trying to look up.