The Role of County Government
County government in New York State is unique in the diversity of services counties offer.
Beyond the functions common to all levels of local government—such as police protection and road maintenance—counties are responsible for a wide range of human services that are delegated to the counties by the State. In fact, counties were originally created as administrative subdivisions of State government to carry out State functions. While the role of counties has grown, many of the State’s largest and most important social programs continue to be delegated to, and delivered by counties.
Tompkins County, like New York State’s other counties, is responsible for delivering programs that assist people who are facing economic hardship, are vulnerable to abuse or exploitation, or suffer from mental illness or developmental delays. Counties are the State’s front line of defense in protecting the public’s health and play a primary role in maintaining the public’s safety. Counties operate jails, prosecute those charged with criminal offenses, provide free legal counsel for those who cannot afford their own attorney, and supervise those who are on probation. Counties also serve as the main repository for public records and manage the elections process.
In addition to these and other mandated responsibilities, Tompkins County provides police protection through a sheriff’s office, operates a countywide 911 Center, provides planning guidance, and maintains an extensive system of roads and bridges. Tompkins County is one of only two counties in the State to operate a consolidated Assessment Department.