One of my many goals as your county commissioner is to not only bring some added awareness of what is taking place at the county level, but also help the public understand more about what this position entails.

In many states, the role of a county commissioner is a very important one. Outside of New England, county government tends to play a larger role in everyday life than the municipal level.

In some places, county government is responsible for things like maintaining roads and bridges, caring for our physical and mental health, administering our elections, ensuring public safety, strengthening environmental stewardship, and much more. At the other end of the spectrum, Rhode Island and Connecticut do not have county governments at all.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s road to the White House include stints at the county level from President Biden’s time on the New Castle County Council and Vice President Harris’s time in the Alameda and San Francisco counties’ district attorneys’ offices.

In New England, we tend to like more localized control. A prime example of this is local town meetings, a very direct form of democracy. As a result, county government here has reduced power and authority compared to other parts of the country. That doesn’t mean, however, that our county government structure isn’t beneficial or important. Far from it.

County government pre-dates our statehood and is Maine’s oldest form of government. York County’s governance structure involves a full-time manager and five elected part-time county commissioners split up amongst five districts. There are also six positions elected county-wide: District Attorney, Sheriff, Judge of Probate, Registrar of Probate, Registrar of Deeds and Treasurer. Our administrative office is located in the county seat, in the town of Alfred.


Think of the county commission as a regional version of a town select board or city council. We have an annual budget, overseen by a separate and independent budget committee, that hovers in the $20 million or slightly more range. For comparison, the City of Saco budget is nearly double that figure. The budget committee ultimately has the most power in the passage of the annual budget, with the commission playing a more secondary role as the staff craft it and the budget committee has final sign-off authority. Commissioners can adjust and make recommendations but are ultimately side lined from the final decision. The budget committee is made up of members of the public and elected representatives from municipalities.

​Commissioners, elected to four-year terms, are the chief elected officials responsible for the fiscal operations and policy decisions affecting county government. The commission’s jurisdiction and responsibilities include oversight of our jail, two of the largest Registries of Probate and Deeds in New England, part of the District Attorney’s Office, a domestic violence program, an addiction treatment program, law enforcement for about half of York County’s 29 municipalities, and county-wide emergency management. We are in the process of building a new recovery center and a public safety training center, which will be added to that list of ongoing programs we will be responsible for.

Additional duties include municipal tax abatement appeals for towns that do not have their own board of tax appeals. An example of this is Buxton. The number of tax abatement cases we handle is quite extensive. Almost every other meeting now, the commission conducts a tax abatement appeal hearing between local municipal officials and taxpayers. It’s our responsibility to weigh the arguments, evaluate the facts, and determine whether the tax assessor was incorrect in their assessment. In some cases we award a full or partial abatement to the taxpayer and in other cases we side with the municipality in their original assessment.

Commissioners also provide representation on numerous boards and committees which furthers our goal of inter-agency cooperation. For instance, I’m the county representative on the Executive Committee of the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission.

Because most of the country has strong county government structures, the federal government often uses our level of government as a vehicle to disburse and distribute federal money, like in the case of COVID-relief funds.

In future pieces, I hope to break down each of the department areas to take a deeper dive into the important work happening across our county on your behalf.

Justin Chenette is a York County Commissioner and currently serves as vice chair of the commission. He also serves on the executive committee of the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission, Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee, Age Friendly Saco board, and provides college scholarships through his foundation. He is the author of the book, ‘The Great Whoopie Pie Debate: A Kids’ Guide to the Maine Legislature’. Get county updates at

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