Counties in Colorado are a constitutional subdivision of state government. Their boundaries, which are set forth in statute, were drawn by the General Assembly. Initially, counties were created to carry out the programs and policies of the state. These functions have grown over the years to encompass many policy and operational areas not contemplated 100 years ago. Counties can exercise only those powers specifically expressed in statute or in the constitution.
Under state statute, counties are responsible for law enforcement, which includes supporting the courts system and the district attorney function as well as providing jail facilities through the sheriff. Counties are responsible for providing the state’s social services, including administering and carrying out virtually all programs overseen by the Colorado Department of Human Services. Counties may provide health services, although their ability to do so depends on resources available. Counties are responsible for road and bridge construction, maintenance, and repair. Finally, they control land use in the unincorporated areas.
Counties have a vast number of other responsibilities, ranging from weed control to restaurant inspection, virtually all of which are traced to state legislation. In certain instances, such as liquor licensing, siting, and operation of landfills, and pest control, counties and state government have co-authority. Additional responsibilities are delegated to other county elected officials, such as the treasurer, assessor, coroner, clerk and recorder, surveyor, and sheriff.
Counties have the power to incur debt, enter into contracts, and receive grants and gifts. Counties can incur either revenue debt (based solely upon a specified revenue stream) or general obligation (G.O.) debt, which constitutes a general obligation of the local government to repay the debt. Some counties also enter into lease-purchase arrangements (as an alternative to debt financing) to build major facilities such as justice centers. (Source: Colorado Counties, Inc. – CCI) For more information about the structure of counties in Colorado, please visit Colorado Counties Inc.
For most purposes, Douglas County acts through its Board of County Commissioners (BCC). The three-member board acts, by majority vote of a quorum present, to adopt ordinances in those limited areas for which specific authority has been given by the State Legislature, and to adopt resolutions to conduct all of its other business.
The BCC performs legislative, executive and quasi-judicial functions. The Board serves as the legislative, policy-making and administrative body governing the unincorporated areas of Douglas County.
The BCC appoints a County Manager to carry out the policy directions of the Board and to supervise and coordinate the work of the staff in the departments that fall under direct control of the Board. With the exception of the County Attorney, the County Manager will have line authority over all County divisions under the BCC.
The County Attorney is a constitutionally prescribed county office. By statute, the County Attorney is a position that is filled by appointment of the BCC. The County Attorney’s Office provides legal advice and representation for the BCC. The County Attorney, with the approval of the BCC, also advises and represents all other Douglas County elected officials, the County Administrator, department and division heads, and appointed commissions, boards and committees.
Other County Elected Officials
The other constitutional officers elected to four-year terms are the Assessor, Clerk and Recorder, Coroner, Sheriff, Surveyor and Treasurer, . Constitutionally and statutorily, they are independent from each other and from the County Commissioners. Their powers and duties are prescribed by state statute. The County Commissioners have no direct authority over the other elected officials in the county except that commissioners approve budgets for all other elected officials’ departments.