Counties have been around since before Texas became a state, and even before it was a republic. Under Spanish rule, the land was divided into municipios. When the Republic of Texas formed in 1836, those municipios became the ﬁrst 23 counties. By the time Texas joined the United States in 1845, the new state comprised 37 counties.
Fast forward to today — 254 counties make up the Lone Star State. In each county, a team of locally elected and appointed county officials serves its community.
The Purpose of Counties and County Government
How Did We get to 254 Counties?
State vs. County vs. City
Counties help keep Texans safe and secure. County government plays a significant role in both public safety efforts and the criminal justice system in Texas. They keep communities safe by providing law enforcement,the court system, jails, and emergency preparedness and response services in the event of natural and man-made disasters.
County sheriffs and constables are on the front lines of public safety and the criminal justice system every day in Texas. They patrol the streets, prevent crime, catch criminals, operate and maintain county jails and serve as an arm of the Texas court system.
County judges, justices of the peace, county and district attorneys, and county clerks all play big roles in the state court system, too, which is largely funded and administered by county government. Through the work of counties, criminals are prosecuted and justice is served, wills are probated, guardianships are handled and so much more.
When it comes to exercising your right to vote, your county makes sure this important step in the democratic process runs smoothly.
No matter what kind of election you’re voting in — for local school board members, or for your county officials, for the next governor or even the next president of the United States — counties make sure your vote counts.
County clerks and elections administrators conduct elections for all levels of government — local, state and federal. They set up precincts and polling places and coordinate the workers and volunteers that staff them. They keep voting records and track turnout. Ahead of all this work, tax assessor-collectors take on the task of registering voters and, in some counties, the role of conducting elections can also fall to them.
County government helps keep Texans and the Texas economy moving. Counties build and maintain nearly half the roads in Texas. They also maintain one in five of the state’s bridges.
Counties do more than spread asphalt and pour concrete. Many counties participate in strategic metropolitan and regional transportation planning to help move Texans and commerce efficiently. Counties are responsible for connecting Texans, businesses and communities across the state and beyond.
Among their many duties, county commissioners are responsible for the construction and maintenance of the county roads and bridges in their precinct. Many county judges and commissioners also participate in metropolitan and regional planning efforts.
From your birth, to marriage and starting family, from building a business to making a will and leaving a legacy for those you love, counties mark your most important milestones and keep your most important records safe.
The clerk’s office maintains and preserves the official and permanent records for the county, the county’s residents and the court system. Some counties even keep safe records that date back more than 170 years, to the Republic of Texas era.
From making sure trash is hauled away and not illegally dumped, to providing medical and mental health care, ensuring the health and welfare of county residents is another major area of responsibility. Counties can establish hospitals, emergency medical service districts and set up 9-1-1 systems. They provide indigent residents with health care in some cases, maintain medical clinics that provide preventative care like check-ups and immunizations. Many counties also help fund local mental health crisis services. County veterans’ services offices coordinate pensions, loans, transportation and other help for veterans and their families.
The county commissioners court makes decisions about funding and implementing many of these programs, but the day-to-day work is done by various county departments. Connecting with many county services is as easy as dialing 2-1-1 or visiting your county courthouse.
Counties are the first line of response in the event of an emergency — both natural and man-made. Counties are required to maintain an emergency management plan. These regularly updated and rehearsed plans describe when and how residents should be evacuated from an area. They can also include rules for curfews and access to disaster areas, and plans for maintaining county services during a disaster.
The county judge is the head of emergency management in the county. The judge’s declaration of a disaster puts the local emergency plan into effect. The sheriff and constables offices, along with other offices, may assist in public safety or coordinate the continuation of county services through the disaster.
County government is the most responsive and transparent level of government in Texas, led by ofﬁcials who live and work in the communities they serve. Local ofﬁcials understand their county and its particular needs.
Each Texas county has a team of locally elected and appointed ofﬁcials who work full time to provide hands-on essential services that make government work for the people of Texas.
Click an icon below to learn more about each county official.
The Commissioners Court conducts the general business of the county and consists of the County Judge and four Commissioners. The Court:
In Texas, counties with a population of fewer than 8,000 (unless there has been a special election), the County Clerk also serves as the District Clerk and assumes all constitutional and statutory duties of both positions.
Some counties just have either a Criminal District Attorney or a combination County and District Attorney. In these counties, one office performs the functions of both the County Attorney and the District Attorney.
Find your county’s website for more details about your county and county officials OR contact your County Judge’s Office.