Coryell County Courthouse
620 East Main Street
Gatesville, Texas 76528
The origin of Texas county government can be found in "municipality", the local unit of government under Spanish and Mexican rule. The municipalities were large areas embracing one or more settlements and the surrounding rural territory. In 1821 there were four major Spanish settlements in Texas - San Antonio, Bahia (Goliad), Nacogdoches, and the Rio Grande Valley - and three areas of light settlement and ranching and four major roads.
Prior to the revolution of Texas against Mexico, there was no political subdivision at the county level. In 1835 Texas was divided into departments and municipalities. Three departments were established - Bexar, Brazos and Nacogdoches - along with 23 municipalities.
Under the new Republic in 1836, the 23 municipalities became counties. When Texas became a state in 1845, there were 36 counties.
Under the State Constitution of 1845, county government varied little from that under the Republic. The only major change was one that made all county offices elective positions.
When Texas entered the Confederacy in 1861 and adopted a new State Constitution, there were 122 counties.
Ten years after Reconstruction from the Civil War, the Constitution of 1876 was adopted. It is the present State Constitution and contains much detail concerning the governmental organization of the county. The number of counties increased steadily until there were 254 counties in 1931.
Today there are 254 counties serving the needs of more than 18 million Texans. The counties range in size from just under 100 residents to more than three million. Major responsibilities include building and maintaining roads, recreational facilities, and in some cases, county airports; constructing and operating jails; operating the judicial system; maintaning public records; collecting property taxes; issuing vehicle registration and transfers; and registering voters.
Counties also provide law enforcement, conduct elections and provide health and social services to many poor county residents.
Increasingly, county governments are playing a vital role in the economic development of their local areas.
County government structure is spelled out in the Texas Constitution, which makes counties functional agents of the State. Thus, counties, unlike cities, are limited in their actions to areas of responsibility specifically spelled out in laws passed by the Legislature.
At the heart of each county is the commissioners court. Each Texas county has four precinct commissioners and a county judge who serve on this court. Although this body conducts the general business of the county and oversees financial matters, the Texas Constitution established a strong system of checks and balances by creating other elective offices in each county. The major elective offices found in most counties include county attorneys, county and district clerks, county treasurers, sheriffs, tax assessor-collectors, justices of the peace, and constables. As a part of the checks and balances system, counties have an auditor appointed by the district courts.
While many county fuctions are administered by elected officials, others are run by individuals employed by the commissioners court. They include such departments as public health and human services, personnel and budget, and in some counties, public transportation and emergency medical services.
The above was re-produced from Texas Association of Counties - About County Government.