Counties are closely involved in economic development and planning to improve our communities. The county may play a role in locating a new factory and creating jobs, repairing or replacing a bridge in a local municipality or planning for new transportation infrastructure.
Counties are also important in protecting the environment. They are responsible for comprehensive land use planning, storm water management planning, and planning for the proper disposal of solid waste.
Counties also oversee all elections, the basis of our democracy. They keep a registry of voters, make sure election equipment is in good working order and ensure that polling places are accessible to everyone who wants to vote.
Counties are required to provide protective services for children and youth; mental health and intellectual disability programs; drug and alcohol awareness programs; and services for the aging. A large part of the funding for these programs comes from grants from the state and federal government. Each year counties help thousands of families in need of assistance.
The Court of Common Pleas and the magisterial district courts are administered by the county. Each county has one or more judges who are elected to sit on the bench and hear criminal and civil court cases. Magisterial district judges do criminal bookings and small claims such as traffic tickets. Counties support the courts with corrections and criminal justice programs such as the county prison, juvenile detention center, probation and criminal investigation units.
Counties operate emergency management agencies, responsible for the creation and implementation of plans to respond to and recover from emergencies such as storms, floods, explosions or other disasters. They also plan for what to do if hazardous materials are spilled or released into the environment.
Counties also provide 911 emergency call-taking and dispatch service, making sure the police, ambulance or fire companies get to where they are needed.
Philadelphia, Allegheny and Erie Counties have their own health departments. The balance of Pennsylvania counties work cooperatively with the Pennsylvania Health Department on medical issues.
In Pennsylvania, county sheriffs serve process, provide transport of prisoners, and may provide security at county properties. Unlike other states, they do not perform traditional police functions.
To fund all these important programs, counties rely on taxes based on the value of real estate in the community. Real estate includes the buildings and land of our homes and businesses. Your local city, borough or township, and your school district also rely on the real estate tax information.
Different counties have different ways of doing each of these things, but all of them have one thing in common--commitment to their citizens. Counties are a very important part of our community. Contact your county commissioners or county council members to find out more about what your county is doing.