County government roles are on the 2024 ballot. What do these elected Arizona officials do?

Counties in Arizona have gained national attention for their role in administering elections and voting.

But these government entities do much more than that.

Supervisors across the state's 15 counties are responsible for setting a vision and direction for their regions. Each Arizona county has three to five supervisors, depending on the region's population. Supervisors are elected out of districts covering different areas of their counties, meaning they often represent a large area spanning hundreds of square miles.

Meanwhile, county attorneys, sheriffs, recorders, school superintendents, treasurers and assessors are responsible for running their departments to serve the needs of all of their constituents, from those in rural areas to those in urban ones.

With elected county roles across the state on ballots in 2024, here's what to know about these elected officials.

What do county supervisors do?

County supervisors oversee everything from land use issues and regional public health to animal shelters and restaurant inspections. They also serve as the municipal body for those living in unincorporated areas of the county, people who aren't residents of an incorporated city or town and do not get the same amenities as those who are.

Sometimes, they are tasked with appointing officials to vacancies. In July, for example, Maricopa County supervisors appointed former lawmaker Shawnna Bolick as the newest Republican state senator for a north Phoenix swing district. Last year, Pinal County supervisors appointed Dana Lewis to the county's vacant recorder position.

Supervisors also directly control their county's checkbook, setting budgets and tax rates to support them. In Maricopa County, the most populous county in Arizona and the fourth most populous in the nation, this year's budget totals $4.5 billion — nearly as much as the operating budgets of several U.S. states.

Even in smaller counties, supervisors have control over large pots of money. Greenlee County, the state's least populous with less than 10,000 residents, passed a budget totaling $34 million in June.

The basics: How to run for City Council in Arizona

What do other county officials do?

Each county also has several other elected offices: county attorney, sheriff, recorder, school superintendent, treasurer and assessor. Here's an overview of what each official does:

  • County attorney: These officials serve as their county's public prosecutor, overseeing all prosecutions in superior court and other county courts. They also defend their county in legal proceedings, offer written opinions to county officers on their duties as needed and act as legal counsel for the county Board of Supervisors.

  • County sheriff: They serve as the top local law enforcement official for their county and are tasked with policing unincorporated areas of their county, as well as municipalities without a designated police force. They also serve superior court orders and warrants, collect delinquent taxes, coordinate search and rescue missions and oversee their county's jail system.

  • County recorder: These officials manage public records in their county, including property documents and governmental information. Many provide tools that aim to safeguard the public from title theft and other types of fraud. They are also responsible for maintaining voter registration records and administering early voting, including mailing out early ballots, providing on-site early voting locations and verifying voter signatures on early ballot affidavits and petitions.

  • County school superintendent: County school superintendents provide services to support school governing board elections and bond and override elections in their counties, as well as manage school board appointments, oversee school finances and maintain home-school and private school records. They may also operate accommodation school districts, which are made up of alternative schools for students facing specific educational challenges and barriers.

  • County treasurer: These officials act as their county's tax collector and safeguard their county's money. They are responsible for disbursing money from the county treasury and pursuing those who have not paid their county taxes. They receive all county revenues, manage credit accounts and invest county funds with guidance from county supervisors. They also serve as treasurer for all schools and special districts within their county.

  • County assessor: These officials are responsible for mapping and assessing all properties in their county. They work with the county treasurer and recorder to maintain records and provide important information for property tax purposes.

County voters also elect officials to serve in various capacities in superior courts, which are separated by county but administered by the Arizona State Judiciary. These include clerks of the court and superior court judges.

How does county government work?

County officials often work with other government officials to accomplish goals. County supervisors sometimes advocate to other government bodies and agencies for policy changes. They also often work with cities and towns to find and fund solutions for homelessness, transportation needs and more.

Unlike cities, counties in Arizona act as administrative arms of the state and have limited powers. But city and county officials often serve the same constituents, and by joining forces, counties and municipalities can work together to create change in communities.

For example, Pima County and Tucson officials announced last year that they would form a working group tasked with making policy proposals to fight poverty in the region. Similarly, Maricopa County and Phoenix have partnered in recent years to tackle homelessness, creating hundreds of new shelter beds.

A county manager handles day-to-day operations across most county departments. That person is appointed by the county supervisors and functions as the county's chief administrator. They are in charge of overseeing staff, implementing policies set by supervisors and making supervisors' vision a reality.

Local politics: What does a city manager do?

In Maricopa County, for instance, former manager Joy Rich steered internal and external initiatives over her six-year tenure. Internally, Rich implemented a new approach to employee hiring, recruitment and retention by expanding parental leave and encouraging competitive salaries. Externally, she and her staff saw the county through numerous headwinds, including the COVID-19 pandemic and controversy over elections.

Generally, county offices with elected heads operate entirely under that official's purview. However, supervisors control the budget and, therefore, have authority over the resources of their county's Sheriff's Office, Attorney's Office and other departments with elected heads. Sometimes, supervisors use that authority to wield influence on those offices.

For instance, Maricopa County school superintendents and county supervisors have a long history of feuding over funding. In 2006, former School Superintendent Sandra Dowling fought with county supervisors over the operations of schools for homeless children and budget shortfalls. In May, supervisors passed a resolution refusing to fund the Maricopa County accommodation school district next fiscal year after they alleged financial mismanagement in current School Superintendent Steve Watson's office.

Supervisors may also get involved with county offices under other elected officials to manage risk if they feel that an office is doing something that could result in legal action or liability.

Sasha Hupka covers county government and regional issues for The Arizona Republic. Do you have a tip? Reach her at Follow her on X, formerly Twitter: @SashaHupka. Follow her on Instagram or Threads: @sashahupkasnaps.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Elections, jails, taxes: A guide to county government in Arizona