A county commissioner represents you more directly than any other elected official. County commissioners are the foundation of a democratic layer cake that get’s more distant the higher you go. In under-populated Wyoming, we run into our politicians more than most. But congressmen and women are often busy in Washington. And because of gerrymandering, your state representative may represent a significant number of constituents in another county as well as you. Commissioners regularly see you, visit with you, and attend to matters that directly impact you.
In a democracy, you might think that counties—the entity closest to the people—would have the broadest powers. Ironically, they have the narrowest. As are most states, Wyoming is a Dillon Rule state. Teton County’s scope of authority is expressly limited by the Wyoming Constitution and Title 18 of Wyoming Statutes. This becomes clear on issues like the lodging tax, whose revenue split is determined not here but at the state level.
Dillon Rule notwithstanding, Wyoming Counties have three powerful tools:
1. Control over budget and finances including the ability to contract debt.
2. Zoning and land use planning.
3. Authority to establish fire protection services, hospitals, senior centers and waste disposal districts.
However the state strictly limits county authority to raise revenue to fund these services and operations.
By focusing on you and being responsive, the limited authority counties have to raise revenue is not a constraint. A well-managed county empowers citizens, supports a vital economy and protects local resources. For more specifics, see this document from the National Association of Counties.