Ultimately, the citizens of each county decide who runs their government by electing a board of county commissioners to govern the county. In most counties, commissioners serve four-year terms, but a few counties use two-year terms or a combination of two- and four-year terms.
The board of commissioners sets the county property tax rate and adopts the budget each year. The board also establishes county policies by adopting resolutions and local laws (ordinances).
Commissioners are not the sole policy makers in county government, however. Because the sheriff and register of deeds are also elected officials, they have independent authority to adopt specific policies for their departments. In addition, several independent or nearly independent local boards have responsibility for such areas as alcoholic beverage control, elections, mental health, public health and social services. These boards appoint directors and have the authority to make local policies. Similarly, school boards are separately elected by the citizens and have responsibility for education policies and setting the school systemís budget. None of these other local boards have the power to tax citizens, however.
The commissioners have statutory authority to appoint a professional county manager or administrator to oversee the day-to-day operations of the county government, while the commissioners focus on county policies. Some counties in North Carolina have more than 2,500 employees to provide needed services while others have fewer than 100.