What is a Board of Supervisors? (Overview, Roles, and Responsibilities)

  • By: Adam Wire
  • October 12, 2022
Board of Supervisors
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Similar to a city council, a board of supervisors oversees the management of county legislation within 6 states and 16 New York counties.

If you’re interested in serving on your county’s board of supervisors and eager to understand what this position entails and how to prepare for a board meeting, then you’re in the right place. Read on for an in-depth guide with everything you need to know about sitting on the board of supervisors, including how board portal technology can help facilitate advanced meeting preparation, promote effective governance, and encourage seamless collaboration.

What is a Board of Supervisors?

A board of supervisors is a group of elected officials responsible for overseeing county government. They are tasked with ensuring that public services are provided effectively and efficiently while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

Not all U.S. states have a board of supervisors for their counties. Only seven states have a system where a board of supervisors oversees county local government operations. These include Arizona, Iowa, Wisconsin, Mississippi, California, and Virginia, as well as 16 counties in New York. States that don’t have a board of supervisors have similar agencies, such as county commissions or city councils.

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Boards of Supervisors Responsibilities

The people who serve on boards of supervisors are tasked with different roles and responsibilities depending on the state. Some factors that may influence a county supervisor’s responsibilities include population size, the geographic area covered by the county, the number of employees, budget size, and whether the county has a police force.

In general, though, most county supervisors have 3 core responsibilities:

  1. Pass and repeal laws
  2. Approve county budgets
  3. Oversee county departments

Let’s take a closer look.

1. Pass and Repeal Laws

County supervisors have the power to pass laws that govern the operation of their respective local governments. In addition, the board can approve new ordinances, amend existing ones, and repeal any law passed by the legislative body. 

For example, if a county wants to pass a law requiring drivers to wear seatbelts, the board would need to vote in favor of the measure before it becomes law. In other words, the board must approve the ordinance before it goes into effect.

Here are a few more legislative duties that the board of supervisors may undertake:

  • Make decisions on pertinent issues like zoning changes, land use planning, and building permits
  • Approve the appointment of department heads
  • Set policy regarding the hiring and firing of employees
  • Remove or replace election precincts
  • Appoint election officials like inspectors and judges

2. Approve County Budgets

County supervisors are also responsible for approving the budgets of their respective counties. That means they can decide how much money will be spent on various programs and projects within the county.

For instance, if a county decides to spend $10 million on road construction, the board would need to approve the spending plan before it can go into effect. If the board approves the budget, the funds will be available for the project.

If you’re wondering what happens when a county doesn’t have enough money to fund specific programs, this is where things get interesting. When an agency needs funding, but there isn’t enough money to cover everything, the board of supervisors may choose to allocate some of the funds from one program to another. For example, if the county has $100,000 left over after paying for roads, it could allocate part of the remaining amount to pay for public safety services.

Here are a few more responsibilities related to approving county budgets:

  • Determine which departments receive funding
  • Establish priorities for the allocation of funds
  • Authorize the county sheriff to issue an award, not exceeding $10,000 per case, for intel or leads to a criminal suspect
  • Ensure all expenditures comply with applicable laws

3. Oversee County Departments

The final key responsibility of county supervisors is overseeing the operations of various county departments. These include duties like law enforcement, fire protection, health care, education, transportation, parks, libraries, etc. The board of supervisors must ensure that these departments operate effectively and efficiently. But how?

Here are a few techniques the county board of supervisors applies to undertake their oversight duties:

  • Regular meetings: It’s vital for the members to run board meetings regularly so they can discuss any issues that arise in various county departments. This helps them identify potential problems early on to take action before things get out of hand.
  • Oversight hearings: Oversight hearings allow the board to question staff members about their agencies’ performance. For example, they can ask questions such as “How many people were hired last year?” or “Why did your department miss its deadline for submitting reports?”
  • Regular audits: The board may contract independent auditors to review financial records and make recommendations to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The auditors then provide actionable recommendations to the board on improving various departmental operations.
  • Comprehensive evaluations: This involves a comprehensive analysis of each department’s performance. Some key focus areas include the quality of service provided, customer satisfaction, employee morale, and other factors. This is also an excellent opportunity for the chair to evaluate the performance of the board members.

Effective Boards Leverage OnBoard

To recap, the board of supervisors is like a well-oiled machine needed to keep the counties going. They oversee and coordinate the operations of various county agencies, approve spending plans, and set policies. Holding such an office is a high honor and responsibility you can’t afford to get wrong. 

That’s why it helps to have a board intelligence solution like OnBoard to streamline processes and reduce complexities. The board meeting management platform comes feature-packed with tools that help boards stay organized and get work done quickly. With OnBoard, you’ll be able to create agendas, manage minutes, track votes, and even hold virtual town halls. Plus, our team of experts will train you to use OnBoard and provide continuous support so you can start saving time right away.

And as a sign of goodwill, download our free board meeting agenda template to help you kickstart your new board meeting management system. With this tool, you can effortlessly create an agenda focused on the most vital topics and activities. If you want more, OnBoard’s software includes drag-and-drop agenda builders. Request a demo to see it in action.

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About The Author

Adam Wire
Adam Wire
Adam Wire is a Content Marketing Manager at OnBoard who joined the company in 2021. A Ball State University graduate, Adam worked in various content marketing roles at Angi, USA Football, and Adult & Child Health following a 12-year career in newspapers. His favorite part of the job is problem-solving and helping teammates achieve their goals. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two dogs. He’s an avid sports fan and foodie who also enjoys lawn and yard work and running.