|How Florida's Local Governments Operate
As you move through your local community, think about how much of what you see is provided by your local government. You will pass schools, police cars, fire stations, libraries, parks, hospitals, and other facilities that are maintained by government units. Florida's local governmental units fall into three major categories: counties, municipalities, and special districts.
If you look at a county map of Florida,
you can see that it is divided into 67 counties of different
sizes and shapes. Counties in Florida range in population and
area from very small to very large. The smallest county is Union
at 245 square miles. The largest county is Palm Beach at 2,578
Florida's county governments were created by the state legislature
as an arm of the state to provide state services at the local
level. The 1968 Constitution made two important changes to the
power and structure of county governments: It established home
rule and it permitted counties to establish a county charter.
The home rule power grants all counties the power of self-government.
When a county becomes a home rule unit, its government becomes
more powerful. The county charter gives charter counties broader
home rule powers over local matters.
sets forth the organization of county government. Each county's
voters elect a sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, supervisor
of elections, and clerk of courts to four-year terms. A board
of county commissioners elected to four-year terms governs every
The Constitution identifies the responsibilities
of the counties. These include law enforcement, tax collection,
road maintenance, and public health. In some metropolitan areas,
county governments perform some of the functions that cities
once handled. For example, the government of Miami-Dade County
administers transportation, water supply, and other services
for the Miami area.
Florida’s many municipalities—its
cities, towns, and villages—were created by the people
to serve the citizens’ needs. A municipal government is
formed when a community creates a charter that allows the community
to set up its own government and the state legislature passes
a special act that permits the community to incorporate, or
set up, a legal community. There are more than 400 municipalities
in Florida today.
Florida’s municipal governments provide
many services, including police and fire protections; parks
and recreation; electricity, water, and sewer service; traffic
control; and parks. The services provided vary from one local
government to the next. In some counties, one or more cities
provide most of the services. In other counties, county government
is largely responsible for public services.
Every municipal charter provides
for the form of government the community will have. The most
common form of municipal government in Florida is the council-manager
form. Under this form of government, legislative and executive
powers are separated. The council makes policy for the municipality.
A manager carries out the council’s policies. The council-manager
form usually includes a mayor with limited powers.
Floridians sometimes face such problems as providing a safe water supply and adequate transportation. From time to time, to solve these problems, either the state legislature or local governments establish special districts that are better able to respond to specific problems than are other units of local government. The state legislature sometimes creates a special district for a specific purpose, to be provided in a certain area. Funded and governed by the legislature, these districts are called independent special districts. Examples of independent special districts include fire service, water management, and inland navigation. Florida's counties and cities may also create special districts. These are called dependent special districts. They receive their authority and funds from the local government. There were more than 1,100 special districts in Florida in 2003.
Other Units of Government
Each county is a school district. District officials are in charge of providing public education for local students from kindergarten through grade 12. The State Board of Education coordinates public education for the 67 school districts and makes policy regarding public school operation, educational opportunities, and rules.
Other units of government in Florida include the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribe Special Improvement Districts. The Seminole and Miccosukee operate their own government according to the laws of the United States and based on their own constitution and laws. Therefore, federal, state, and tribal laws govern the affairs of each tribe.