County (United States)

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{law, state, case}
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In the United States, a county is a local level of government below the state (or federal territory). Counties are used in 48 of the 50 states; Louisiana is divided into parishes and Alaska into boroughs.[1] Parishes and boroughs, as well as certain independent cities not part of counties, are considered "county-equivalents." There are currently 3,143 counties and county-equivalents in the United States. Independent cities, which are not part of a county, are different from consolidated city–counties, entities in which are city and county that have been merged into one unified jurisdiction and is simultaneously a city, which is a municipal corporation (municipality), and a county, which is an administrative division of a state, having powers and responsibilities of both types of entities.

The average number of counties per state is 62. The state with the most counties is Texas, with 254; the state with the fewest counties is Delaware, with three. As of the 2000 Census, the average county population was about 100,000. The most populous county is Los Angeles County, California, with an estimated population of 9,880,000 (2009 Census estimate), larger than all but eight U.S. states. The least populous county is Loving County, Texas, with some 80 residents. The largest county or county-equivalent is Unorganized Borough, Alaska, which is over 330,000 square miles. The five largest counties or county-eqivalents are all in Alaska; the largest county by land area elsewhere is San Bernardino County, California, which is over 20,000 square miles. The smallest county by land area is Arlington County, Virginia, which is 26 square miles.

The nature and power the county government exercises, as well as the distribution of power among the state, counties, and municipalities, varies widely and is defined in each state's statutes and constitution.[2] At one end of the spectrum is Connecticut, which abolished county government in 1960 and has functions carried out in other states by counties carried out in city and town governments instead, maintaining its eight counties only as geographical designations and to organize its judicial and state marshall system. At the other end of the spectrum is Maryland, which has few incorporated municipalities and has its 23 counties and the independent City of Baltimore handles almost all services, including public education, which in most other states is the responsibility of a separate school district, a special-purpose district usually governed by an independent-elected school board.

The site of a county's administration, and often the county courthouse, is called the county seat (or in Louisiana or Alaska the "parish seat" and "borough seat," respectively). Several Northeastern counties officially use the term "shire town" to refer to the county seat. Common sources of county names are names of people, geographic features, places in other states or countries, Native American tribes, and animals. Quite a few counties bear names of French or Spanish origin.[3]

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