- New Jersey is the only state where elected county officials are called “freeholders” (most other states elect a county commission or county council).
- The term “freeholder” is a carryover from colonial days, when only property owners -- then known as freeholders -- were entitled to vote.
- Originally, one freeholder represented each municipality. As counties grew, this became too unwieldy. Today, Somerset County has five freeholders elected at-large for three-year terms. Each freeholder represents the entire county. Somerset County currently has about 332,568 residents.
SOMERSET COUNTY TODAY
- Population: Approximately 332,568
- Households: Approx. 122,624
- Square Miles: 305
- Location: Central New Jersey - one of only two “land-locked”counties in New Jersey (Morris County is the other)
- 21 Municipalities: Bedminster, Bernards, Bernardsville, Bound Brook, Branchburg, Bridgewater, Far Hills, Franklin, Green Brook, Hillsborough, Manville, Millstone, Montgomery, North Plainfield, Peapack-Gladstone, Raritan, Rocky Hill, Somerville, South Bound Brook, Warren & Watchung
- Congressional Districts: 7 and 12
- Legislative Districts: 16, 17, 21, 22, 23 and 25
WHAT DOES A FREEHOLDER DO?
- Freeholders elect from among themselves a Freeholder Director who conducts their meetings and serves as spokesperson for the board. The Freeholder Deputy Director fills this role in the director’s absence. In Somerset County, the positions of Freeholder Director and Deputy Director are rotated each year.
- Each freeholder in Somerset County chairs a standing committee (see also County Departments & Divisions below):
- Human Services
- Finance & Administrative Services
- Public Works
- Public Health & Safety
- The Freeholder Director and County Administrator serve as ex-officio members of each committee.
- The Board of Chosen Freeholders is the policy-making body of county government. They ensure compliance with state mandates, such as recycling and the provision of facilities for the courts and the county jail.
- The Freeholders also fund many human and social services programs, such as Senior Wellness Centers, Meals on Wheels, the Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center and the Office of Veterans Services, among others.
Somerset County has three elected constitutional officers who provide their own specialized services to residents:
- County Clerk - records property records, takes passport applications, administers notary oaths, issues veteran’s honorable discharge IDs, receives petitions, designs ballots, issues mail-in ballots, tabulates election returns and certifies election results
- Sheriff – operates the county jail, serves warrants and summonses, provides security for the county courthouse and complex, assists municipal police departments and conducts safety programs for schools and county residents. The Sheriff’s Office is an official year-round medicine drop-off location for unwanted, unused and expired medications.
- Surrogate - Probates wills, appoints administrators to estates, appoints guardians of adults and minors, handles trusts for minors and acts as Deputy Clerk to the Superior Court for the processing of adoptions and other matters
COUNTY DEPARTMENTS & DIVISIONSSomerset County Government has four main “umbrella” departments that oversee a number of divisions:
- Finance & Administrative Services - Adjuster, Finance, Human Resources, MIS, Purchasing, Records Management, Telephone Services and Weights & Measures
- Human Services - Office on Aging and Disability Services, Community Development, Office of Operations and Planning, Juvenile Institutional Services, Mental Health Center, Psychiatric Emergency Screening Services (PESS), Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Veterans Services, Volunteer Services, Greater Raritan Workforce Investment Board/One Stop Training Division and Youth Services
- Public Works - Bridges, Engineering, Facilities & Services, Fleet Management, Recycling, Roads, Planning, Cultural & Heritage Commission, Transportation, Vehicle & Equipment Maintenance and Solid Waste Management
- Public Health & Safety - Health Department, Emergency Management, Emergency Services Training Academy and 911 Communications
Economic Development, Grants, Police Academy, Public Information and the Workforce Investment Board report to the County Administrator.
The County Administrator/Clerk of the Board and County Counsel report directly to the Board of Freeholders.
There also are a number of affiliated agencies that receive support from the Freeholders: Library, Vocational & Technical Schools, Raritan Valley Community College, Board of Elections, Park Commission, Superintendent of Schools, Prosecutor’s Office and Board of Social Services.
For more detailed information about the programs and services that Somerset County's divisions and affiliated agencies provide, see our Facts at Your Fingertips guide which includes telephone, fax numbers, email addresses and locations.
For more information about Somerset County, email the Public Information Office or call 908-231-7020.