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Front Page » October 31, 2006 » Opinion » Understanding the role of each county office
Published 3,769 days ago

Understanding the role of each county office

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Communications director of Utah Association of Counties

On Election Day, Nov. 7, and during the early voting period, Utahns have the opportunity to cast a ballot for various elected offices and propositions. Many of those vying for public office are seeking county government positions. However, some citizens may not understand the role of each county office they are voting for. To help make the most informed decision, it is important to understand the general responsibilities of each elected county office in governing and serving the residents of each community.

All 29 county governments in Utah include various elected offices, such as assessor, attorney, auditor, clerk, commissioner or council member, mayor or executive, recorder, sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer. Depending on each county's individual needs, some of these offices can be combined. It's not uncommon to see the offices of clerk and auditor held by one person, for example. Other offices can be filled by appointment, or in other words a non-elected office.

Each county office oversees various services and functions of the county that benefit its residents. And for each county, some services are unique to that county. Some of the general services provided by most or all counties in Utah include jails, health and human services, roads and transportation, animal services, sanitation services, libraries, parks and recreation, tourism, economic development and many others.

But what's the difference between a county assessor and a county treasurer? Here is a list of each county office and the basic responsibilities they have.

County Commissioner/Council Member - Commissioners and council members oversee all county services and functions, with each overseeing specific areas so everything is properly monitored. Collectively, they oversee the county budget and meet regularly (often weekly) to discuss important issues facing their county.

County Assessor - Assessors determine the value of business and residential properties, which includes homes and vehicles. Based on the determined value and a rate set by other governing bodies, a tax is assessed. These taxes are then used for county and other services such as parks, schools, roads, cities and other elements the community may need.

County Attorney - Attorneys are responsible for protecting citizens in two areas: criminal and civil. Criminal duties include prosecuting individuals accused of breaking state or local laws. Civil duties include representing county government in law suits, drafting contracts and ordinances, giving counties legal opinions and advice and representing the county before other governmental entities such as the Legislature.

County Auditor - Auditors ensure that county money and assets are correctly budgeted and spent, since counties oversee large sums of public money and the services they pay for. In many counties, this office is combined with the Clerk, in terms of oversight.

County Clerk - Clerks are primarily responsible for overseeing all elections including federal, state and county (whether a county office is open or not). They are also engaged in protecting the rights of voters through the proper registration of citizens and training of poll workers. Most clerks also collect and archive minutes, agendas, and correspondences for county commission or council meetings. And, many county clerk offices also issue marriage licenses and transmit passport applications.

County Mayor/Executive - This position is less common in Utah as only two counties have an elected mayor or executive (Salt Lake and Cache counties). The person in this position oversees all the county's day-to-day operations. It's important to know that some counties have an appointed or non-elected official who fulfills this role.

County Recorder - Recorders oversee and maintain a large library of records and documents, some dating as far back as the 1800s. These include records or property that is bought or sold, maps that show all the land in the county and who owns it, and additional records such as military discharges, federal tax liens and court judgments.

County Sheriff - Sheriffs are one of the most visible offices in each county and, as such, most people are familiar with the various services they oversee. Along with protection of citizens and performing general law enforcement duties (including outside city or town limits), sheriffs also have oversight of many other important services including education programs, search and rescue, dispatch, jail operations and others.

County Surveyor - Surveyors must correctly and accurately locate, measure and record all property within the county. This very important information is then used to produce maps to help identify roads, boundaries and other landmarks for citizens, emergency response professionals, postal workers and many others.

County Treasurer - Treasurers have the main responsibility of billing and collecting all property taxes. However, they also must accurately distribute all tax revenues to the many different entities such as schools, cities and special service districts that assess taxes or receive tax revenue.

While each of Utah's 29 county governments is unique, many of the essential functions of each elected county office are the same. Gaining a greater understanding of these services will help Utahn's make the best, most informed decisions on Election Day.

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