There are 70 municipalities in Bergen County. The county government, on a regional basis, provides essential community based services which are beyond the scope of local governments, but which could not be appropriately provided from Trenton. In New Jersey, counties have mandated responsibility for construction and maintenance of county roads and bridges; operation of a county jail and court system; equalization of property assessments (for tax purposes); and the conduct of elections. In addition, Bergen County provides an extensive system of county parks; training for police, fire and other emergency services personnel; environmental and public health services; and programs for seniors and other special groups.
Counties frequently serve as units of administration for programs of both state and federal government, such as Community Development, subsidized housing, welfare and the courts. The county often contributes a portion of the funding for these.
The elected governing body of Bergen County consists of the County Executive, who serves a four year term, and a seven member Board of Chosen Freeholders* with three year staggered terms. At least two Freeholders are elected each year. The major source of revenue is the county property tax, with the rate based on the total equalized value of all property in the county. Each town is responsible for collecting the county tax along with school and municipal taxes.
*What is a Freeholder? In other states they would be called commissioners or county legislators. In colonial New Jersey, the right to vote was limited to freeholders, persons who owned land, free and clear, including women who owned property in their own names. While the term “freeholder” has been retained, suffrage for women was abolished by the first state constitution, not to return until 1920.
Other county officials:
The New Jersey Constitution mandates three additional elected county officials:
- The Sheriff, elected for a three year term, is responsible for operation of the jail and security and services to the courts.
- The County Clerk, elected for a five year term, is responsible for election materials (ballots), county records, registering deeds and processing applications for passports and naturalization papers.
- The Surrogate, elected for a five year term, probates wills, supervises trust accounts for minors, handles incompetency filings and rules on administrative matters in uncontested probates and guardianships.
The county superintendent of schools, appointed by and responsible to the state Commissioner of Education, monitors the public school laws and expenditure of state aid.
The county prosecutor, appointed by the Governor and responsible to the state Attorney General, is the chief criminal law enforcement officer.
The Board of Elections, composed of two Democrats and two Republicans appointed by the Governor, (Bergen also has a Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Elections, who must be of opposing political parties) supervises voter registration, keeps records of eligible voters, provides voting machines and settles certain controversies regarding elections.