The main governing and representative body of county government is the three-member board of county commissioners. The county commissioners work in conjunction with other elected officials that are generally referred to as row offices These offices include the Sheriff, District Attorney, Prothonotary/ Clerk of Courts, Register of Wills/Recorder of Deeds and two jury commissioners. Additionally, three auditors and a treasurer are elected as county finance officers. The county commissioners, the elected officers and the county court appoint a number of county officials and employees needed to carry out functions of county government. The elected county officers are enumerated in the Pennsylvania Constitution. Their powers and duties of each elected official are prescribed by statutes located throughout the county code and state law.
County government supports the county court and records and administers activities relating to civil and criminal justice, including prisons, probation and parole.
County governments assesses property for local taxation, registers voters, conducts elections and has important human service responsibilities, including county nursing homes, child welfare services and services for the aging and mental health and mental retardation programs. County planning commissions perform vital services for the counties and their municipalities in community development and planning.
Counties levy taxes on people and property within their jurisdictions. The tax on real estate or property tax is the main source of local revenue on which the county runs its operations. In each county, a board is established to supervise, equalize and revise assessments and to hear appeals.
The common thread running through county history is the role of county government as an administrative entity of the state. The earliest responsibilities of counties included the maintenance of the local judicial system and the local prison. In the 19th century the local court systems were well established, as were the county jails. County structure had also remained somewhat constant. From the earliest years, counties had been governed by commissioners or some similar office. Counties also had what are now known as row officers, with the earliest being the sheriff, treasurer and auditor. Throughout the 20th century, the role of county government came to be defined as it is known today. It now had both state and local dimensions. Its primary responsibilities, traditional in nature, are as an agent of the state for the purposes of the administration of justice, maintenance of legal records, the conduct of elections and the administration of human services programs. Counties have also been granted powers more commonly considered local, rather than state in character. Some of these powers include parks and recreation, emergency management and solid waste management. Since the early 1960s, however, county government has experienced explosive growth, especially in human services programs and criminal justice areas. Counties have grown into the role of the primary provider of state and federal social programs. Counties have evolved into active providers of services for their inhabitants.
Compliments of PA Department of Community and Economic Development