North Dakota County Commissioners Association: Handbook

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North Dakota County Handbook 

Table of Contents

(this page is in development)


Section 1 – General Structure and Powers

  1. 1.01 - Organization and Structure Options for County Government

  2. 1.01.1  Traditional County Structure
  3. 1.01.2  County Consolidated Office
  4. 1.01.3  County Manager
  5. 1.01.4  Home Rule Counties
  6. 1.01.5  Tool Chest Legislation for Local Government
  8. 1.02 - County Officers

  9. 1.02.1  Elected Offices
  10. 1.02.2  Elected or Appointed Offices
  11. 1.02.3  Appointed Offices
  12. 1.02.4  Terms of County Offices
  13. 1.02.5  Vacancy in County Office
  14. 1.02.6  Vacancy in Board of Commissioners
  15. 1.02.7  Appointed Boards
  17. 1.03 - County Redistricting


Section 2 - Finance and Taxes

  1. 2.01 - Revenue Sources

  2. 2.01.1  Property Tax
  3. 2.01.2  Other Taxes
  4. 2.01.3  Intergovernmental Revenue
  5. 2.01.4  Other Sources, Charges and Fees











Section 1:  General Structure and Powers


North Dakota is divided into 53 counties.  Counties are political subdivisions of state government, each organized as an incorporated body for civil and political purposes only.  Counties may sue and be sued, contract and be contracted with, and purchase and hold real estate for the use of the county.  The board of county commissioners is the primary policy-making body in the county and has broad authority, including adopting the annual budget and approving tax levies as well as significant appointive, administrative, and regulatory powers.  The North Dakota Century Code establishes options for county government structure.

Additional Resource:  History of North Dakota County Government & the ND Association of Counties


1.01 - Organization and Structure Options for County Government

Mix of Home Rule and Dillon’s Rule: In North Dakota, 12 counties have adopted a home rule charter and 41 are governed under Dillon’s Rule. A board of county commissioners may cause a home rule charter to be drafted and submitted for adoption, pending the approval by the county voters. Home rule counties have the same powers as general law counties as well as additional freedoms for establishing financial authority (including countywide sales tax) and the structure of county government, including elected and appointed officers, so long as it is not inconsistent with state law. State statute also empowers counties to adopt a multicounty home rule charter between two or more counties.

Additionally, counties have been granted through statute, the authority to restructure the statutorily elected offices (except for the sheriff).  This authority can be accessed by citizen petition or commission action and can result in the combining or separating of offices or duties, as well as the redesignation of elected offices to appointed or the reverse.

Each county in North Dakota is governed by a board of 3-5 commissioners that serves as both the legislative and executive decision-making body for the county government. State law does not allow for the authority (in Dillon’s Rule counties) to create a chief executive officer position; however, counties may choose to adopt a county managership form of government which creates the county manager position. The county manager serves as the chief administrative officer and is responsible for the administration of county affairs as delegated by the board of commissioners. Depending on the form of managership adopted, county managers may be either elected by the county residents or appointed by the county board of commissioners. Home rule powers would allow the creation of a county managership through election or appointment as well.


1.01.1  Traditional County Structure  NDCC 11-10-02

Each organized county, unless it has adopted one of the optional forms of county government (see below) or combined or separated the functions of county offices or redesignated offices as elected must have the following officers elected to four-year terms.

Auditor NDCC 11-13

Recorder (ex officio clerk of court in counties less than 6,000) NDCC 11-18

Treasurer NDCC 11-14

Coroner ND 11-19.1-03

Board of Commissioners (3 or 5 members) NDCC 11-11-02 and NDCC 11-11

North Dakota county commission boards consist of either three or five members voted on by the county electors.  Click here for map of board size for ND counties.

Elected State’s Attorney (unless voters approve being appointed) NDCC 11-10-02.3 and NDCC 11-16

Elected Sheriff NDCC 11-15


1.01.2  County Consolidated Office  NDCC 11-08

Any county in the state may adopt the county consolidated form of government by resolution approved by the majority of the board of county commissioners and also approved by voters at the next primary election.  If approved by voters, the consolidated form of government becomes effective the first day of January after the election.


1.01.3  County Manager NDCC 11-09

Any county may adopt one of the county manager forms of government by resolution approved by the majority of the board of county commissioners and also approved by voters at the next primary election, or by petition filed with the county auditor signed by at least 10% of the qualified electors voting in last general election for office of governor, and approved by voters at the next regular primary or general election.

Powers and duties of the county manager:  NDCC 11-09-12

Administrative activities county manager is responsible for:  NDCC 11-09-14

The State’s Attorney (except as provided in section NDCC 11-10-02.3 and Sheriff of a county adopting any form of county managership must be elected.


1.01.4  Home Rule Counties  NDCC 11-09.1

County Commissioners may propose home rule charter by motion or can be initiated by a petition signed by at least 2% of the county population. 

Charter Commission must be appointed by Commissioners within 60 days NDCC 11-09.1-02

Charter must be ratified by majority vote of electors  NDCC 11-09.103 and 11-09.1-04

Home Rule Charter Powers NDCC 11-02.1-05

Additional Resources:

ND Home Rule Counties Map

ND Home Rule Counties Adoption Date and Structure


1.01.5  Tool Chest Legislation for Local Government NDCC 11-10.2

In 1993, legislation was passed providing a process that can be initiated by the county board or the citizens of the counties to combine, separate, or redesignate county elected or appointed offices.  It provides specific requirements, protections, and citizen vote options. 

County Officer Combination, Separation, and Redesignation NDCC 11-10.2-01

Methods of Accomplishing Office Combination, Separation, or Redesignation NDCC 11-10.2-02

Analysis Required – Contents of the Plan NDCC 11-10.2-03

Plan Implementation NDCC 11-10.2-04

Combination or Separation of Appointive Offices NDCC 11-10.2-05

Multisubdivisions Office Combinations NDCC 11-10.3

Additional Resources:

Steps for Office Combination

County Office Combinations May 2021


1.02 - County Officers  NDCC 11-10-02

Each county, unless it has adopted one of the optional forms of county government or has used the tool chest provisions to combine or separate offices, or redesignated offices as elected or appointed, must have the following officers

1.02.1  Elected Offices

Board of Commissioners (3 or 5 members) NDCC 11-11

State’s Attorney NDCC 11-16 - elected unless otherwise provided in NDCC11-10-02.3

Sheriff NDCC 11-15


1.02.2  Elected or Appointed Offices

Auditor NDCC 11-13 

Recorder NDCC 11-18

Treasurer NDCC 11-14


1.02.3  Appointed Offices

Clerk of Court (elected, appointed, or state employed)

Tax Director NDCC 11-10.1

Coroner NDCC 11-19.1

Job Development Director NDCC 11-11.1

Surveyor NDCC 11-20

Public Administrator NDCC 11-21

Highway Engineer NDCC 11-31

Superintendent of Schools NDCC 15.1-11


*All mandatory officers, except for sheriff, can be combined, shared amount counties, or redesignated as appointed or elected through statutory or home rule provisions.
Officers Elected/Appointed Mandatory/Optional
States Attorney Elected Mandatory
Auditor Elected Mandatory
Recorder Elected Mandatory
Treasurer Elected Mandatory
Sheriff Elected Mandatory
Coroner Appointed Mandatory
Director Of Tax Equalization  Appointed Mandatory
Highway Engineer Appointed Optional
Surveyor Appointed Optional
Emergency Manager Appointed Mandatory
Veterans Service Officer Appointed Mandatory
911 Coordinator Appointed Optional
Public Health Administrator Appointed Mandatory
Superintendent of Schools Appointed Mandatory
Public Administrator Appointed Optional


1.02.4  Terms of County Offices

The four-year terms for county elected officials have changed some over the years, and multiple sections of law are involved.  Overall, NDCC 11-10-05 states: “Except as otherwise specifically provided by the laws of this state, the regular term of office of each county officer, when the officer is elected for a full term, shall commence on the first of January next succeeding the officer's election…”  The table below details which offices are governed by this general section of law and which have other specific start dates.

Information regarding salaries for elected county officers:  NDCC11-10-10 and 11-10-10.1


County Office Start of Term* ND Century Code
County Commissioner 1st Monday in December 11-10-05.1
State's Attorney January 1 11-10-05
Sheriff Janaury 1 11-10-05
Auditor April 1 11-13-01
Recorder January 1 11-10-05
Treasurer May 1 11-14-02
Clerk of District Court(Note: 14 are state employees) January 1 11-10-05
Coroner (5 year term) Janaury 1 11-19.1-03

*It is important to note that through a home rule charter or the use of the tool chest provisions of state law, counties may combine traditionally elected positions.  The “Charter” or the “Plan” implementing these combinations must set out the dates of their terms and whether the position is to be appointed or elected.   For offices restructured or consolidated by the home rule provisions of NDCC 11-09.1 or the tool chest provisions of NDCC 11-10.2, but remain elective, the term of office may be different if specifically established by the charter or plan approved. 


1.02.5  Vacancy in County Office  NDCC 44-02-04

A vacancy in any county office, other than that of county commissioner, must be filled by the board of county commissioners, other than a state’s attorney removed from office under 44-11-01.  In that case the appointment is made by the commissioners with the advice and consent of the governor.

1.02.6  Vacancy in Board of Commissioners NDCC 44-02-05

When a vacancy occurs in the board of county commissioners, the remaining members of the board appoint the person to fill the vacancy from the district where the vacancy occurred.

1.02.7  Appointed Boards

The Board of Commissioners is responsible for appointing several boards and to establish their rate of compensation, except water boards who set their own compensation between $75 and $135 per day.  The organization structure of the various commissioner appointed boards are determined by the statute for each board.


1.03  County Redistricting NDCC 11-07

The redistricting board shall meet within three months after the official publication of the decennial census to consider redistricting.  If any one district in the county varies by more than ten percent from the average population per commissioner, or if the commissioners are elected at large, the redistricting board shall redistrict the county.  The redistricting board members shall include:

Chairman of Board of Commissioners

State’s Attorney

Member of largest city governing body

Township Supervisor (if more than half of townships are organized)

Citizen at Large from each city excluding largest city (if at least 3 incorporated cities)

County Auditor (ex officio member)


Section 2:  Finance & Taxes

North Dakota counties only have the taxing authority authorized by the state legislature but have broad jurisdiction on real property taxes. Property taxes can be levied for general purposes, an emergency fund and other specific funds, but the tax levies are limited to a rate necessary to meet budget demands. Home rule counties additionally may levy a sales and use tax as well as a restaurant and lodging tax. Counties are allowed to incur general debt and issue bonds to fund revenue-generating utilities.


2.01 – Revenue Sources


2.01.1  Property Tax NDCC Title 57

North Dakota counties are allowed the taxing authority authorized by the state legislature and have broad jurisdiction on real property taxes. Property taxes can be levied for general purposes, an emergency fund and other specific funds, but the tax levies are limited to a rate necessary to meet budget demands.

Absent a home rule charter that allows for exceeding statutory property tax limitations, county boards can levy property taxes up to a limit based on mills per dollar of taxable value.  Taxable value is 4.5% of true & full value of residential property and 5% for commercial and agricultural value.  Agricultural value is determined by productivity.  Counties have numerous special fund levies, some of which can be increased by voter approval every 10 years.  The levies counties are allowed to use can be found in the ND State Tax Department “Schedule of Levy Limitations” publication which is revised and published in July of each odd year following the legislative session.   The levies approved for counties are:



2.01.2  Other Taxes

Prohibited Taxes for Counties

Counties are prohibited from imposing certain taxes as follows:

  • Personal Property Tax
  • Income Tax
  • Mineral Tax
  • Gas/Fuel Tax

Additional Taxes for Home Rule Counties

Home Rule Counties may impose certain taxes if ordinance to do so is approved by voters:

  • Sales Tax
  • Restaurant Tax

County Lodging Tax

All counties may impose a county Lodging Tax, not to exceed 2% upon the gross receipts of retailers on the leasing or renting of hotel, motel, or other accommodation – but not within an incorporated city levying a lodging tax.  Proceeds are deposited into the county’s visitor promotion fund.


2.01.3  Intergovernmental Revenue




2.01.4  Other Sources, Charges and Fees

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