Public services are common in our daily life, so much so that we don't think about them; however, the services you receive are directly tied to the government you elect. Public services are usually paid for out of tax revenues by local governments and can vary from state to state and even town to town. What services are provided depends largely on what the citizens expect their government to provide.
Why Does Local Government Provide Services?
Generally, a service is provided by a local government when it is necessary for the citizens who support the government, but the private sector is unable or unwilling to provide the service. This is generally due to infrastructure costs, such as constructing water mains, or an inability for the service to make a profit. There is no legal obligation for a local government to provide any service in most countries, but providing services is politically popular, and the practice is therefore common.
Types of Public Services
Any service that the government is responsible for, as opposed to a private corporation, can be considered a public service; police departments, fire departments, sanitation, water, gas, streetlights, all of these may be considered public services. Public services can, over time, be made private services. This process is called "privatization." However, not all services can be privatized and offer the same level of quality. Privatization is generally considered for services that are only used by a few citizens.
Local government funds most local services. This funding generally takes two forms. It can be paid for in the the local government's yearly budget, or the government can charge a fee to each citizen who wants the service. You are more likely to see fees for service in specialized areas, such as hazardous chemical cleanup. Services that are more general, such as the police department, are more likely to be paid out of a local government's budget.
Local government will also provide administration for these services and, depending on the government, will also allow voters to choose who administrates these services. For example, the local government will interview, test and hire public prosecutors for the district attorney's office, while the district attorney is an elected position within the government. Local government will also handle payroll, benefits, retirements and other administrative issues without asking the public to vote.
One of the best benefits local government can offer is accountability. Unlike private corporations, over which their individual customers have little control, each member of the community is able to vote on key administrators like the mayor or the city councilperson. This creates a need to offer the citizens services that are efficient and will serve their needs. Generally speaking, the more citizens use a public service, the more attention key administrators will give it.