Local government in the United States

Local government in the United States refers to governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state. Most states and territories have at least two tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. Louisiana uses the term parish and Alaska uses the term borough for what the U.S. Census Bureau terms county equivalents in those states. Civil townships or towns are used as subdivisions of a county in 20 states, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.[1]

Population centers may be organized into incorporated municipalities of several types, including the city, town, borough, and village. The types and nature of these municipal entities vary from state to state. In addition to these general-purpose local governments, states may also create special-purpose local governments.[2] Depending on the state, local governments may operate under their own charters or under general law, or a state may have a mix of chartered and general-law local governments. Generally, in a state having both chartered and general-law local governments, the chartered local governments have more local autonomy and home rule.[3] Municipalities are typically subordinate to a county government, with some exceptions. Certain cities, for example, have consolidated with their county government as consolidated city-counties. In Virginia, cities are completely independent from the county in which they would otherwise be a part. In some states, particularly in New England, towns form the primary unit of local government below the state level, in some cases eliminating the need for county government entirely. Many rural areas and even some suburban areas of many states have no municipal government below the county level.

In addition to counties and municipalities, states often create special purpose authorities, such as school districts and districts for fire protection, sanitary sewer service, public transportation, public libraries, public parks or forests, water resource management, and conservation districts. Such special purpose districts may encompass areas in multiple municipalities or counties. According to the US Census Bureau's data collected in 2012, there were 89,004 local government units in the United States. This data shows a decline from 89,476 units since the last census of local governments performed in 2007.[2]

Each of the five permanently inhabited U.S. territories is also subdivided into smaller entities. Puerto Rico has 78 municipalities, and the Northern Mariana Islands has four municipalities.[4] Guam has villages, the U.S. Virgin Islands has districts, and American Samoa has districts and unorganized atolls.[4][5][6]

Each Indian Reservation is subdivided in various ways. For example, the Navajo Nation is subdivided into agencies and Chapter houses, while the Blackfeet Nation is subdivided into Communities.


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