County and City Government


Municipal governments oversee the operation and functions of cities and towns. Census estimates for 2012 show just over 19,500 municipal governments and nearly 16,500 township governments in the United States.Lavin, “Census Bureau Reports There are 89,004 Local Governments in the United States (CB12-161).” The vast majority of municipal governments operate on one of two governing models: a mayor-council system or a council-manager system.

Under the mayor-council system voters elect both a mayor and members of the city council. The city council performs legislative functions and the mayor the executive functions. Under this system, the mayor may be given a great deal of authority or only limited powers.“Forms of Municipal Government,” (March 14, 2016). Under a strong mayor system, the mayor will be able to veto the actions of the council, appoint and fire the heads of city departments, and produce a budget. Under a weak mayor system, the mayor has little authority compared to the council and acts in a ceremonial capacity as a spokesperson for the city.“Mayoral Powers,” (March 14, 2016).

In a council-manager system of government, either the members of the city council are elected by voters along with a mayor who presides over the council, or the voters elect members of the city council and the mayor is chosen from among them. In either case, the city council will then appoint a city manager to carry out the administrative functions of the municipal government. This frees the city council to address political functions such as setting policy and formulating the budget.“Forms of Municipal Government.”

Municipal governments are responsible for providing clean water as well as sewage and garbage disposal. They must maintain city facilities, such as parks, streetlights, and stadiums (Figure). In addition, they address zoning and building regulations, promote the city’s economic development, and provide law enforcement, public transportation, and fire protection. Municipal governments typically rely on property tax revenue, user fees from trash collection and the provision of water and sewer services, a portion of sales tax receipts, and taxes on business.

An image of the inside of a stadium. The stands are filled with people.
The Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, is home to various sporting events. The stadium first opened for business in 2011, and taxpayers financed $146 million of the total cost to build the stadium, an office park, and a youth soccer complex.Mark Alesia, “Kansas City has Stadium Success Story—in Major League Soccer,” Indy Star, 18 March 2015. (credit: Wesley Fryer)
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The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) provides networking opportunities, professional development, and statistical data in order to support local government leaders and other individuals throughout the world. Visit the ICMA Priorities page to learn what makes a better leader and how you might improve your local community.