Barnstable County is working for you.

Barnstable County Regional Government


3195 Main Street | P.O. Box 427
Barnstable, Massachusetts 02630
Phone: 508-375-6648 | Fax: 508-362-4136

Population: 214, 990 (2013 U.S. Census Bureau) |  Land area: 412 sq mi   Fresh water: 16 sq mi | Coastline (including canal): 560 mi

Barnstable County was established in 1685 when Plymouth Colony was divided into the new counties of Plymouth, Bristol and Barnstable just prior to the end of the Plantation period.

The 15 communities of Cape Cod are connected by more than geography. Together we celebrate a shared history, culture and vision. Barnstable County is a special place requiring special protection and services managed cooperatively for the benefit of each community and the region as a whole.

Purpose of Barnstable County Government

We the people of Barnstable County, in order to gain for ourselves and for our communities all the rights, powers, privileges, duties and obligations which may now in the future be derived form county government, do establish for ourselves and for our communities the means and structure to deal with regional issues which transcend the existing boundaries of municipal governments. This home rule charter for Barnstable County places the power and responsibility to deal with unique problems of Barnstable County in a county government directly responsible to the people of Barnstable County.” –Barnstable County Home Rule Charter adopted by voters November 1988

Read Our Home Rule Charter in its entirety.


History and Role of Cape Cod County Government

Barnstable County is a county located in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. As of the 2010 census, the population was 215,888.  Its county seat is Barnstable.  The county consists of Cape Cod and associated islands (some adjacent islands are in Dukes County and Nantucket County). Barnstable County comprises the fifteen towns on Cape Cod: Town of Barnstable, Bourne, Brewster, Chatham, Dennis,  Falmouth, Eastham, Harwich, Mashpee, Orleans, Provincetown, Sandwich, Truro, Wellfleet., Yarmouth.

Massachusetts has had counties since colonial times.  Barnstable County was formed as part of the Plymouth  Colony on June 2, 1685, including the towns of  Falmouth, Sandwich and others lying to the east and north on Cape Cod. Plymouth Colony was merged into the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1691.

Though initially counties had a primarily judicial function, more responsibilities were added over time included administering penal systems. Supervising certain health facilities, highways, agriculture, registers of deeds, and registers of probate. In carrying out these tasks, county governments served as administrative subdivision of state government. State law provided for election of county officials including county commissioners, treasurers, district attorneys, sheriffs, clerks of court, registers of deeds and registers of probate. The state constitution had no specific provision for counties, so their existence depended on the Legislature’s will. Unlike town and city governments, counties had no legislative authority.

Barnstable County has been recognized as the exception to failing Massachusetts county governments, and was similar to other Massachusetts county governments until 1988 when the first of two major changes were made:

  1. The Barnstable County Home Rule Act of 1988 guaranteed:
  • certain rights of home rule for the county,
  • increased citizen participation in County government, and
  • established a County legislative body with the power to enact ordinances.
  1. The second change was the Cape Cod Commission Act of 1990 which created a regional planning department for the County with regulatory power.


The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates

The legislative powers of the Cape Cod regional government shall be exercised by an assembly of delegates consisting of fifteen members.” County Charter, Sec. 2-1

The Assembly of Delegates is the legislative arm of County government. Fifteen Delegates serve in the Assembly, each elected on a nonpartisan basis from each of the Cape towns. A Speaker and Deputy Speaker are elected as the Assembly Leadership. A Clerk is also elected from outside the Delegates to served as the administrator of the Assembly’s daily activities.

Ordinances. The Assembly governs by ordinance, binding actions approved by a majority of Delegates. The Assembly uses a weighted voting system, where each Delegate’s vote is weighted proportionally to the population of the municipality they represent. Delegates are elected to two-year terms by voters in their municipality.

Passing ordinances follows these steps:

  1. Introduction by a Delegate or Board of regional Commissioners
  2. Public hearing
  3. Adoption with or without amendment by a a weighted majority of Delegates
  4. Approval by Board of Regional Commissioners. If the Commissioners disapprove, the Assembly may override by a vote representing two-thirds or more of the County’s population.

Resolutions. The Assembly also votes on resolutions to express its opinion on major issues of regional importance.

Standing Committees. The Assembly has seven standing committees that consider certain Assembly business: Finance, Health and Human Services, Economic Affairs, Public Services, Natural Resources, Telecommunications and Energy, Governmental Regulations.

Board of Regional Commissioners (“County Commissioners”)

The executive powers of the Cape Cod regional government shall be vested solely in the board of regional commissioners and may be exercised whether directly by such board, or through the several regional agencies under its direction and supervision.” County Charter, Sec. 3-2.

Structure and function: Three county commissioners are elected on a partisan basis to four-year terms. They are responsible for:

  • Direction of County agencies,
  • Submission of County budget to the Assembly of Delegates,
  • Care of County property,
  • Supervision of revenue collection and disbursement,
  • Reporting on financial and administrative condition of the County,
  • Proposing measures to the Assembly,
  • Considering veto of Assembly ordinances, and
  • Appointment and removal of County administrator and County employees.

County Commissioners: Ronald Bergstrom, Chair (Chatham), Sheila Lyons, Vice-Chair (Wellfleet), Mark Forest, Commissioner (Yarmouth)

County Administrator. Day to day administration of the County is conducted by County Administrator, Assistant County Administrator and Director of Finance/Treasurer.

Cape Cod Commission. The Cape Cod Commission was created by the State legislature in 1990 to serve as Cape Cod’s regional planning and land use agency.

Register of Deeds. The Register directs the Department of Land Use registration and Recording and supervises the registry of deeds, including collection of deeds excise tax.

County Sheriff. Operation and maintenance of the Barnstable County Correctional Facility and public safety was transferred to the state on January 1, 2010.

County Services (see for full list). Barnstable County provides a broad array of services to municipalities and individuals. Many are programs that the largely rural, small Towns of Cape Cod could not afford to provide for themselves. These services are necessary especially in the small towns that experience large population growth in the summer months.

  • Bathing beach monitoring program: Beach and pond water sampling for quality testing at 350 sites during summer months.
  • Public health nursing and immunizations;
  • Dredge services: County dredges at a reduced rate in all Cape coastal areas.
  • Procurement: County offers bulk purchased to towns, maximizes buying potential.
  • Horticulture services and classes including guidance from master gardeners;
  • Logistical services to town boards of health;
  • Adult nutrition education;
  • Food safety training for restaurants to reduce food-borne illness; teaches proper sanitation measures;
  • Emergency planning: County coordinates services to address weather and public health emergencies;
  • Coastal resources: Does flood-plain planning, guides towns through FEMA planning programs to reduce insurance premiums for Cape homeowners.
  • Municipal waste and recycling program support;
  • Entomology services by County entomologist including tick identification, prevention and testing;
  • Landfill monitoring;
  • Human services: addressing opioid crisis through Narcan distribution, homelessness programs, education for seniors on Medicare options through SHINE program.
  • Insect identification services and pest management solutions for residents and businesses;
  • Hoarding task force to assist those struggling with this complex problem;
  • Fire and Rescue Training Academy; provides regional public safety training.
  • Police Training Academy; new academy opening summer 2019 to reduce Town’s training costs.
  • AmeriCorps Cape Cod Program: Supports all Cape towns; provides natural resource management and other services;
  • Children’s Cove: Compassionate child sexual abuse services and advocacy.
  • Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Program: Conducts research on septic technologies to confirm they will do what they profess to do;
  • Municipal shellfish propagation: County offers a program to offer group buying power to purchase young oysters and other shellfish, shellfish workshops and training;
  • Septic loan program; Aimed at assisting owners of failed residential septic systems;
  • Affordable housing, economic development, regional transportation services, and coastal resiliency (Cape Cod Commission).
  • Resource Development Office: Manages grants that defray costs of services for towns.

County Revenue and Expenditures

County revenues are generated by:

  • Excise tax on real estate sales
  • Assessments of Towns receiving services.
  • Grants

Expenditures are executed through the County’s annual budget.

County Committees with Citizen Members 

  • AmeriCorps Advisory Board
  • Coastal Management Committee
  • Economic Development Council Advisory Board
  • Health and Human Services Advisory Council
  • Emergency Planning Committee
  • Regional Substance Use Council
  • Hoarding Task Force
  • Health Agents Coalition
  • Regional Network on Homelessness Policy Board
  • Cape Cod Commission
  • Children’s Cove Advisory Board
  • Human Rights Advisory Board
  • Rabies Task Force

Revised by Assembly of Delegate Mary Chaffee (Brewster), June 2019


  1. Barnstable County – The Regional Government of Cape Cod;
  2. How Barnstable County is Governed, County Commissioners and League of Women Voters of the Cape Cod Area (2014).
  3. Barnstable County Charter,
  4. Concannon, B. Massachusetts County Government: A Viable Institution? Bridgewater State University Undergraduate Review, Vol 10, Art. 15 (2014);