Responsibilities of Local Government

Responsibilities of Local Government

( – The US Constitution is very clear about the powers of the federal government – which it specifically lists and limits – and the state governments (which have any power not denied to them by the Constitution). Where it’s less helpful is at the lowest level – local government.

In fact, the Constitution doesn’t regulate local governments at all. That’s left up to the states, and local governments only have the authority the state gives them. However, states do delegate a lot of responsibilities to the city or county level. Here’s what local governments usually do:

Public Safety

Most emergency services, and many other health and safety services, are run at the local government level.

  • Local policing is organized by the local government. State police will usually only get involved if the local police or sheriff’s department can’t cope, or if the problem involves multiple local government areas.
  • Fire departments and ambulance services are provided by local government.
  • Animal control and public health also fall under local responsibilities.


Federal and state governments set many of the rules for education, but it’s up to cities and counties to deliver it.

  • Public schools are paid for out of local government budgets. This is organized into school districts, and in less densely populated areas, two or more local government areas might share a school district.
  • Local government does have some influence over what’s taught, too, so neighboring counties might have different rules about teaching science or sex education.


Federal and state highways are built and maintained at that level, but all other roads are the responsibility of local government. That’s a big job.

  • New roads must be built as needed, and existing ones maintained.
  • Local officials are responsible for clearing snow, draining the roads and dealing with road closures and diversions.


Local government delivers domestic and business utilities, although not all of them provide the full range.

  • Electricity, gas and water can be provided directly by the city or county, or they might contract a private company to do it.
  • Drains and sewers are also a local responsibility.
  • Garbage collection and recycling are managed at the local level.


Local government is involved in elections at all levels. Citizens elect their own officials, and they also play a vital role in state and national elections.

  • Polling stations are provided by local governments, either using their own buildings or contracting out suitable ones.
  • Election workers are also a local responsibility. These might be local government employees or workers hired for the event.
  • Local governments are responsible for making sure elections are held freely, securely and fairly.

Parks and Recreation

Local authorities provide a wide range of recreational services.

  • They’re responsible for maintaining parks and other outdoor recreational spaces. That often includes public sports grounds.
  • Libraries are a local responsibility, too.
  • Some communities also provide gyms, public swimming pools and other facilities.

Local government is unglamorous and often gets overshadowed by state and national politics, but it makes a huge difference in our lives. If you want local services that are effective and good value for money, you need to take an interest in local politics.

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