of the United States
A county-equivalent in the United States is a term used by the Federal government to describe certain areas not contained within the boundaries of any county when dividing the country for administrative purposes. County-equivalents can be broadly grouped into the following three classes:
- An administrative division of a state, in certain states, which is comparable to a county as found in most states.
- A city outside the jurisdiction of any county
- An area defined by the United States Census Bureau for statistical purposes in which no county-level government exists.
Examples of the first class are found in Louisiana and Alaska:
- Louisiana has no counties. Their parishes are, for all legal purposes, the equivalents of the counties found in 48 of the 49 other states.
- Alaska is unique in several respects. First, the administrative division directly below the state level is called a borough instead of a county, but is otherwise equivalent. Additionally, although the city of Anchorage is legally called the Municipality of Anchorage, it is considered a consolidated city and borough under state law. All of Alaska's boroughs except the so-called Unorganized Borough (see below) are considered county-equivalents.
Examples of the second class are found in four states and the District of Columbia:
- In Virginia, all municipalities incorporated as cities are legally independent of any county that would otherwise contain them. However, Virginia also has traditional counties as found in virtually all other states. Since all parts of Virginia are located in either a county or an independent city, Virginia's independent cities are considered county-equivalents.
- Three other cities within the United States are legally independent of any county: Baltimore, Maryland; Carson City, Nevada; and St. Louis, Missouri. These three cities are also county-equivalents.
- Washington, D.C.,[dead link] outside the jurisdiction of any state, has a special status. The city of Washington comprises the entirety of the District of Columbia, which, in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. When founded, the District was in fact divided into two counties and two independent cities. Alexandria County (which now forms Arlington County and a portion of the independent city of Alexandria) was given back to Virginia in 1846, while the three remaining entities (the City of Washington, Georgetown City, and Washington County) were merged into a consolidated government by an act of Congress in 1871 and Georgetown was formally abolished as a city entity by another act in 1895. Congress has established a home-rule government for the city, although city laws can be overridden by Congress, which has occurred even in recent years. Other than the lack of representation in Congress for its citizens, the city operates much like other independent cities in the United States, although technically, it does not meet the legal definition of one. Since it operates in many ways as an independent city, Washington D.C. is a county-equivalent.
- Prior to 1997, the Census Bureau had recognized the portion of Yellowstone National Park within Montana as separate from any county, despite the fact that the State of Montana had recognized this land as being within adjacent counties since 1978. This area is no longer considered a county equivalent.
The third class of county-equivalents is unique to Alaska:
- Most of the land area of Alaska has no organized county-level government. The Alaska state government calls the entire portion of the state that is not part of an organized borough the Unorganized Borough. In 1970, the Census Bureau, in cooperation with the state, divided the Unorganized Borough into census areas for statistical purposes. Each census area is considered a county-equivalent.
As of the 2000 census there were a total of 3,141 county-equivalents in the United States. The number reduced to 3,140 in 2001 when the city of Clifton Forge, Virginia relinquished its city charter and reincorporated as a town within Alleghany County.
Counties and county-equivalents together allow the entire land area of the United States to be divided at one level beneath the state level.
Consolidated city-counties are not designated county-equivalents for administrative purposes; since they maintain the responsibilities of both city and county government, in the context of administrative division, they are properly classified as counties in their own right.