What are counties for

Country - district - cities / municipalities: who does what?

What does the district actually do? What are his duties? If you ask friends and acquaintances, you will often come across perplexed faces or vague assumptions.

Admittedly, the topic of local politics is not exactly one of the topics that promise an entertaining evening program for most people. In addition, it is not that easy to tell who is actually responsible for what ...

However, you, the citizens in the cities and municipalities of the district, are affected every day by what happens at the municipal level. You also have the opportunity to have a say in the municipal institutions. That is why we explain to you here, at least roughly, how the communal political interaction works.

Let's start at the very beginning: The basis of the work of the municipalities lies in local self-government. The municipalities are the lowest part of our state. The federal, state and local authorities share the work. The following applies: What can be done best from the lowest level should also be their responsibility.

This should relieve the higher levels and ensure that problems can be solved on site. On the one hand it is about efficient work, on the other hand it is about closeness to the citizen and the possibility of having a say. Because the local people's representatives - the district assemblies, city council assemblies and municipal councils - give citizens the opportunity to decide what happens on site.

Local politics by and for the citizens

Local political work is legitimized locally. In addition, citizens have tangible contacts they can turn to. The municipalities are relatively independent and can carry out their tasks independently. Of course, they are still subject to the law and supervision of the higher levels. The communal tasks, powers and structures are regulated by communal constitutions that have been drawn up by the federal states, some of which have evolved over time. In Hesse this is the Hessian municipal code.

"The citizens" - this also means you! Have you ever watched an on-site meeting? You can find out when and where the meetings are on the homepages of your city or municipality and for the district council in our calendar.

The country is primarily responsible for public safety and order, legal protection and education. The state parliament in Wiesbaden also has a homepage that you can use to find out more.

"Municipality" is the collective term for districts, cities and municipalities. They perform different tasks. The same applies here: what can best be regulated locally is taken over by the cities and municipalities themselves. The district regulates what can be best organized in a network for a large number of cities and municipalities. The cities and municipalities provide him with money for this: the district levy.
Municipalities mainly take on tasks in internal administration, social affairs, health care, economic development, transport and public institutions.

There are three types of tasks for the municipalities:

  • Order matters:
    These are assigned to the municipalities of the federal and state levels and must be implemented according to their stipulations.
  • Required tasks:
    A municipality has to fulfill this, but it determines itself how it does it.
  • Voluntary services:
    The municipality decides independently on this. She doesn't have to offer it. Therefore, savings must first be made on these tasks.

Tasks of the cities and municipalities

Cities and municipalities are the smallest and lowest administrative authority.
For one thing, they have to deal with higher-level assignments. These are, for example, building supervision, the right to report and regulatory law. There is a comprehensive right to issue instructions. The cities and municipalities therefore have little room for maneuver and have to do everything as the state tells them to. These tasks are usually carried out by the mayor with the magistrate / municipality board and its administration. The city council / municipal councils often have nothing to do with it: It is not about making and shaping political decisions, but about processing tasks from the legislature.

In the case of compulsory tasks such as municipal roads, development plans and kindergartens, the city council / municipal council is the highest decision-making body. Here she also has creative leeway.

Of course, this is also the case with voluntary services such as green spaces, swimming pools, sports facilities and club sponsorship. For example, a city / municipality does not have to operate a swimming pool. However, if she can afford it, then she can do it and she decides how to do it herself.

Tasks of the district

Typical order matters for the district are, for example, vehicle registration, food monitoring and nature conservation. The federal and state governments also stipulate clear rules for monument protection, which the district must ensure that they are complied with.

District hospitals, school building and youth welfare are exemplary mandatory tasks of the district. The district hospitals represent an important part of the basic supply or public services of general interest. More on this later.

Voluntary tasks of the district are, for example, club and business development as well as partnerships with other districts. The family guide, with which the district provides all families with a guide with all important contact points and telephone numbers, is also a typical voluntary service.

How does the county organize all the work?

In order to organize its work in the best possible way, the district has chosen various forms of organization. It just makes sense to tackle the various tasks with different means.

The district is subordinate to various authorities, for example the district agency for employment, the youth welfare office and the office for nature and environmental protection. In addition, the district has set up its own businesses to organize its work. So the hospitals, the DaDi-Werk and KiBis (the district youth home in Ernsthofen).
The health department and the ZAW (special purpose association for waste and recyclable material collection) are operated as special purpose associations with several partners. GmbHs (e.g. Azur, which on the one hand ensures environmentally friendly recycling and on the other hand offers an employment initiative for the long-term unemployed) or investments in GmbHs (such as Frankfurt Rhein Main GmbH) offer opportunities to fulfill the tasks of the district .

All of these forms of organization are determined by special features and different decision-making processes. It makes your head growl quickly. But: For the citizen, it doesn't really matter how the various processes are best controlled. The main thing is that he is looked after and cared for in the best possible way.

To dispose of waste, the district decided with its cities and municipalities to found the ZAW (Zweckverband Abfall- und Wertstoffeinammlung). Since 1993, representatives of the district council and the city council assemblies / municipal councils have come together in it. The fact that waste disposal is managed centrally means that the fees are particularly low. The ZAW has no intention of making a profit, the costs just have to cover each other. In the Darmstadt-Dieburg district, the citizens of Germany don't have to pay much to dispose of their rubbish. In addition, we generate extremely little residual waste - a lot can be recycled through waste separation.

As you can see, the municipalities have many administrative tasks to take on and carry out. Mostly those that are given by higher levels. They also have to adhere to the existing law, for example when drawing up development plans. Of course, this has to be checked.

Regional council - intermediary between the state and municipalities


There are three administrative districts in the state of Hesse. They divide the state of Hesse into smaller administrative units and stand as a state authority - regional council (RP) - above the districts and municipalities. The regional council performs various administrative functions on behalf of and under the supervision of the State of Hesse - such as the legal supervision of the municipalities. It is involved in many areas and is asked by the municipalities if there is any legal uncertainty. In addition, the RP controls the budgets of districts and independent cities in Hesse.

You now have a rough overview of our local political system. In order to explain all areas in detail, we would have to write an entire book. With a few examples we want to show you what the local political interaction looks like in concrete terms.