There are 58 counties in the State of California and each, like Madera County, is a separate legal and political jurisdiction. Madera County is a general law county and operates in accordance with guidelines set forth by the State.
County government evolved to perform the duties of State and Federal government at the local level. For that reason, County government is often called the "arm of the State." Many State and Federal programs are administered by Madera County, such as: Social Services, Medicare, MediCal, Health, Mental Health, Public Assistance, Community Services, Agricultural Pest Detection, Civil Defense, and Veterans Services.
Madera County performs many additional services and programs. The following description has been simplified in order to explain County functions. No program or function operates exclusively in a vacuum. That is, there is overlap within the actual performance of these functions.
County government is given the task of enforcing State and Federal law, as well as operating the Justice System. The Justice System is the second-most costly item in the County budget (Welfare programs are number one), and its appetite is growing. Included, within the Madera County Justice System, are the following departments: the District Attorney's Office; the Sheriff's Office, the Probation Department, the Department of Corrections, which operates the Adult Correctional Facility; the Public Defender's Office; the four Justice Courts and three Superior Courts; and the four Constable Offices.
State law requires Madera County to develop a "general plan" which is designed to serve as the basis for development and land use decisions throughout the County. The County updates this plan periodically and must enforce local building and development ordinances. The planning and inspection functions are performed by the Planning, Engineering, Environmental Health, and Road Departments.
Services to local citizens are an important function of Madera County government and are perhaps the most visible to the general population. Many of these services are required by State or Federal statute, but are not funded by the State or Federal government to any significant level. Because funding for many, but not all, of these services comes from the County's General Fund, it is often these direct services which are cut back if the County has money problems. These services include: the County Library System; the Community Action Programs (Action Committee); the Mental Health Department (Madera Counseling Center); the County Animal Control Department and Pound; the Sealer of Weights and Measures; the County Agriculture Department and University of California Agricultural Extension Services; the Public Guardian; the County Health, Road, and Fire Departments; and the Flood Control Agency.
In order to carry out the functions of Madera County government, an operational and administrative branch has been created. The Tax Collector-Treasurer collects the State property tax and other State fees. The Auditor-Controller tracks revenue and expenditures. The County Administrative Officer acts as a manager and submits the budget. Other offices in the government operations branch include the County Clerk-Recorder; the Engineering and General Services, Elections, Personnel, and Purchasing Departments; and the Central Garage.
The Board of Supervisors is the body charged by law to oversee the duties and functions of Madera County government. Supervisors work with the elected department heads and hire other department heads to run the various departments. The Board of Supervisors may set County policy, but works within the constraints of State and Federal law. It is the duty of the Board of Supervisors to submit a balanced budget to the State and "keep the ship afloat."
All County operations cost money, and perhaps the most intricate aspect of County government is the budget. Generally, the County operates on funding from the State and Federal governments, and property tax, sales tax, and fees generated locally. A complete breakdown of revenues and expenditures is given in another section.
The duties and functions of County government are broad and intricate. Madera County operates within the constraints of State and Federal law and maintains a balanced budget by statute. Earl Waters' essay on "Why city dwellers pay County taxes" sums up County government "...Counties are providing citizens with the best buy for their dollars of any level of government."