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County Hall Corner: Count Your Blessings

The one comment I receive more often than any other from this column is the discovery of the role of county government. Most citizens focus their attention to local government and those who are directing it: city or borough council members or township supervisors. This is normal because Pennsylvania was designed this way. Townships and boroughs are smaller than other states because Pennsylvania was one of the thirteen original colonies that rebelled from England, and the early government wanted to ensure that Pennsylvania citizens could bring their concerns to their local governing bodies. Townships, especially, were designed never to be more than a half-day ride to the governing body from any farm or village in that region. This way, they could get back home by evening and not have to spend the night somewhere.

Now, this is all well and good, except it resulted in a vast array of local governments. This is why Pennsylvania today has 1,547 townships, 955 boroughs, and 56 cities. Oh yes, and one town, Bloomsburg (a story for another day). Obviously, tying these various municipalities together would be a challenge. But again, our European heritage provided an answer.

The concept of a ‘county’ was born in medieval Europe. A king would rule a country, and the country would be divided up into areas ruled by a count. The word ‘count’ came into English from the French word ‘comte’ itself from the Latin word, ‘comes’ which means “companion.” To be recognized as a ‘count’ was to be a companion of the ruler of the realm, such as king or a duke. Those regions that were governed by this count were naturally known as ‘counties.’ When these English settlers came to the New World, they divided up these colonies into smaller areas to be better governable and naturally called them ‘counties.’

Counties served as administrative units for governance for the region, law enforcement, and judicial purposes. The first three were obviously in the Philadelphia area; in fact, the first county was Philadelphia, followed by Bucks and Chester. As the population of the colony grew westward, the pattern was that once an area was somewhat established, a new county structure would be recognized. This county structure was found to be an important tool for local governance.

Lycoming County has the distinction of being the largest county in size in Pennsylvania, formed from Northumberland County on April 13, 1795. Yet when it was formed, it was much, much bigger, including areas of what are now the present counties of Armstrong, Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Forest, Indiana, Jefferson, McKean, Potter, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango, and Warren. Whew!

So, what is my county doing for me lately? Well, believe it or not, it is working hard for you, and proof of that can be found in the County of Lycoming 2024 Proposed Annual Budget which has just been released. Simply go to, and you will see that heading in bold print. Now, I will warn you that this is not light reading as it runs 272 pages (!) But, much can be gathered by at least reviewing page 23 on “Description of County Funds” (the county has 28 funds in its portfolio) and the “Budget Highlights” on page 25. From there, if you have a hankering to find out where exactly the money is going, you can do a deep dive and find a smorgasbord of information, right down to how much the Adult Probation Department spent to replace a laptop computer, how much it costs the Sheriff’s office to cover the Little League World Series, or what the Coroner spends on postage.

Our county government is not perfect (no surprise there), but in the past seven years that I have been following the goings on, I have gained more appreciation for what they do for us. The 500+ county employees are working for us — and it’s working.