Michigan Local Governments
There are 20 states that have townships as a form of general purpose local government, with Michigan rated in the top few in government activity and authority. Townships first came into existence in Michigan through the Northwest Ordinance passed by Congress in 1787. Under this ordinance, township boundaries were arbitrarily drawn on maps to facilitate the surveying and conveyance of land. The Principal functions of early townships involved relief for the poor, cemetery caused maintenance, road development, assigning damages caused by stray horses and cattle, fence viewing to determine the responsibilities of adjoining property owners and establishing boundaries for predators. Assessment rolls for road construction generally involved assessing against the benefited property owner a certain number of days to work upon the construction or improvement of a particular road, rather than an amount of money. If the property owner was unable to perform the labor, he or she was required to hire someone to fulfill the assessment.
Since 1787, township government has developed into a governmental structure that today can provide practically any type of governmental service desired by its citizens and property owners. Specific services are determined primarily by citizen’s demands and the energy, progressiveness and knowledge of the township officials.
Michigan has 1,242 townships that vary considerably in geographical size and population. Although effort was made to make townships approximately 36 square miles in area, irregular Michigan boundaries disrupted this formula. Populations vary from 17 to in excess of 98,000. There are two types of townships in Michigan, general law and charter townships.
Over 99 percent of Michigan’s townships are represented by the Michigan Township Association are to educate and inform its member townships on all matters of importance to township government and to lobby for legislation to improve the township’s ability to provide services to its citizens and property owners. This is accomplished through regular seminars conducted on a variety of subjects across the state throughout the year; the publication of a monthly magazine; the distribution of other written materials concerning special legislation, current court decisions and other pertinent activities; providing information and management consulting services; holding an annual educational conference for four days in January, and through publications such as this hand-book.
General law townships
Township government is conducted by a township board consisting of either five or seven members, depending upon the desires of the inhabitants and whether or not the township has a population of over 5,000, over 3,000 registered electors or is a charter township. The officials of the board are designated supervisor, clerk, treasurer, and trustee, with the trustees numbering either two or four. The township board may also serve in other specific capacities, such as a park board or utility board. In addition, up to four constables may be elected as determined by township board resolution six months prior to election and may in such resolution totally eliminate that office. Other elected officials may include a library board and park commission members.
The township board may hire a manager, assessor, police chief, fire chief or chiefs and other necessary personnel to property and efficiently operate township government. Appointed boards and officials may include a zoning board, a planning commission, a zoning board of appeals, a construction board of appeals, a building and zoning inspector, a board or review of tax assessment, a building authority, a civil service commission, election inspectors, an economic development authority and a downtown development authority.