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What it Means to Live in a Charter Township

Many people often think of cities, villages, townships and sometimes county governments as the same. Granted, they all have houses and families that call the community home, but the structure of government is actually quite different and distinct.


History of Township Government

More so than any other form of local government, towns and townships are rooted in rural and small town traditions. New England towns of the 17th century were the first real local governments on the American continent, with Virginia counties running a close second. The nation owes many of its present ideas of local self-governance to these colonial organizations, including the town meeting and the election of citizens to individual offices and boards.

Township governments were actually in place in most of the Midwestern states before they achieved statehood. A critical step in this process was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, enacted by Congress to establish the initial government of the territory that eventually became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. The territorial governor and legislature began to create county and township governments in 1790, with the townships largely coinciding with the six-mile-square land divisions established in the deferral surveys of the region.

Originally, townships were the mechanism for exercising state authority by administering elections, assessing and tax collecting, and justice on the local level. Villages and cities were incorporated from townships to provide additional local services for population centers, with cities becoming a separate local government for all purposes, and villages remaining a part of the township jurisdiction for some purposes.

Today there are 16,504 townships in the Unites State's serving more than 57 million residents, according to 2002 Census of Government's figures. Township government operates in 20 states: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and, of course, Michigan. [Source: Grassroots Governments and the People They Serve, National Association of Towns and Townships]


Township Government in Michigan

In Michigan, 50 percent of the state's population lives in one of the 1,240 townships. You might be thinking, "So, how does this impact me?" It impacts you because YOU are one of them, and here at Bath Charter Township, we want to help you understand how your local government operates.

Townships, and counties, are statutory units of government, having only those powers expressly provided or fairly implied by state law. Township government is conducted by a township board consisting of either five or seven members—a supervisor, clerk, treasurer, and two or four trustees—which is determined by the desires of the township's residents, whether the township has a population of over 3,000 or 5,000 registered electors, and if the township has charter status. The township board may also hire a manager, superintendent, assessor police or fire chief, and other personnel to properly and efficiently operate the township.

There are two types of townships in Michigan—general law and charter. Charter Township is a classification created by the Michigan Legislature in Public Act 359 of 1947 to provide additional powers and streamline administration for governing a growing community. Currently, 137 Michigan townships have opted to incorporate as a charter township.

Charter townships and general law townships are similar in organization structure and powers except for specific differences provided for in the Charter Township Act. In particular, the act grants charter townships additional flexibility in their organization structure, boundary protection against annexation and enhances the unit's general tax authority.


Serving You

State laws authorize townships to perform a wide variety of functions. Townships are required to perform assessment administration, tax collection and elections administration. Townships may choose to perform numerous governmental functions, including enacting and enforcing ordinances, planning and zoning, fire and police protection, cemeteries, parks and recreation programs and facilities and many more.

Townships are highly accountable to the residents they serve, in part because of being the form of government closest to the people. At Bath Charter Township, we provide services that you tell us are of value to you. Together we will continue to make the place we call home so special to all of us.