Civil township

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A civil township is a widely used unit of local government in the United States that is subordinate to a county, most often in the northern and midwestern parts of the country. The term town is used in New England, New York, and Wisconsin to refer to the equivalent of the civil township in these states; Minnesota uses "town" officially but often uses it and "township" interchangeably. Specific responsibilities and the degree of autonomy vary in each state. Civil townships are distinct from survey townships, but in states that have both, the boundaries often coincide and may completely geographically subdivide a county. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies civil townships as minor civil divisions. Currently, there are 20 states with civil townships.


Township functions are generally overseen by a governing board (the name varies from state to state) and a clerk, trustee, or mayor (in New Jersey and the metro townships of Utah). Township officers frequently include justice of the peace, road commissioner, assessor, constable, and surveyor. In the 20th century, many townships also added a township administrator or supervisor to the officers as an executive for the board. In some cases, townships run local libraries, senior citizen services, youth services, disabled citizen services, emergency assistance, and cemetery services. In some states, a township and a municipality that is coterminous with that township may wholly or partially consolidate their operations.

Midwestern and central

Madison Township Hall in Madison Township, Richland County, Ohio Madison Township Hall.jpg
Madison Township Hall in Madison Township, Richland County, Ohio

Depending on the state, the township government has varying degrees of authority.

In the Upper Midwestern states near the Great Lakes, civil townships (known in Michigan as general law townships [1] and in Wisconsin as towns), are often, but not always, overlaid on survey townships. The degree to which these townships are functioning governmental entities varies from state to state and in some cases even within a state. For example, townships in the northern part of Illinois are active in providing public services—such as road maintenance, after-school care, and senior services—whereas townships in southern Illinois frequently delegate these services to the county. Most townships in Illinois also provide services such as snow removal, senior transportation, and emergency services to households residing in unincorporated parts of the county. The townships in Illinois each have a township board, whose board members were formerly called township trustees, and a single township supervisor. In contrast, civil townships in Indiana are operated in a relatively consistent manner statewide and tend to be well organized, with each served by a single township trustee and a three-member board.

Civil townships in these states are generally not incorporated, and nearby cities may annex land in adjoining townships with relative ease. In Michigan, however, general law townships are corporate entities (e.g. they can be the subject of lawsuits), [2] and some can become reformulated as charter townships, a status intended to protect against annexation from nearby municipalities and which grants the township some home rule powers similar to cities. In Wisconsin, civil townships are known as "towns" rather than townships, but they function essentially the same as in neighboring states. In Minnesota, state statute refers to such entities as towns yet requires them to have a name in the form "Name Township".[ citation needed ] In both documents and conversation, "town" and "township" are used interchangeably. Minnesota townships can be either Non-Urban or Urban (giving the township government greater power), but this is not reflected in the township's name. [3] In Ohio, a city or village is overlaid onto a township unless it withdraws by establishing a paper township. Where the paper township does not extend to the city limits, property owners pay taxes for both the township and municipality, [4] though these overlaps are sometimes overlooked by mistake. [5] Ten other states also allow townships and municipalities to overlap. [6]

In Kansas, some civil townships provide services such as road maintenance and fire protection services not provided by the county.

Northeastern states

Map of Cattaraugus County, New York showing municipal and township organization Cattaraugus County, New York Divisions.png
Map of Cattaraugus County, New York showing municipal and township organization

New England and New York

In New England and New York, states are generally subdivided into towns and cities, which are municipalities that provide most local services. With the exception of a few remote areas of New Hampshire and Vermont and about half of Maine, all of New England lies within the borders of an incorporated municipality. New England has counties, though in southern New England, they are strictly used as dividing lines for judicial systems and statistical purposes, while in northern New England, they often handle other limited functions, such as law enforcement, education and some public facilities in addition to judicial systems. New England also has cities, most of which are towns whose residents have voted to replace the town meeting form of government with a city form. Maine has a third type of township called a plantation, which previously existed in other New England states, that has more limited self-governance than other New England towns.

In portions of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, county subdivisions that are not incorporated are occasionally called townships, or by other terms such as "gore", "grant", "location", or "purchase".

The State of New York is subdivided into counties, which are subdivided into cities and towns—except for New York City, whose five coextensive counties for state government purposes are municipal boroughs for city government purposes (Bronx County/The Bronx, Kings County/Brooklyn, New York County/Manhattan, Queens County/Queens, and Richmond County/Staten Island). As in New England, the term "town" equates to "township" in most other states. Additionally, New Yorkers colloquially use the term "township" to mean "town". Townships and hamlets are unincorporated areas within a town or towns. Because towns are administrative divisions of a county, town boundaries cannot cross county lines. In addition to administrative subdivisions, New York State also has cities. Cities in New York are fully autonomous municipal corporations and, thus, are able to cross county lines and whose governments fully independent of county control.

Finally, New York and Vermont also have villages, which are smaller communities lying within the boundaries of a town that provide additional government services not provided by their parent town, such as sewage, fire, law enforcement, garbage collection, public facilities, water and building code enforcement. In Vermont, most current cities were actually former villages that broke off from their parent town. Connecticut has boroughs and non-consolidated cities, although these communities are not as autonomous as villages in New York and Vermont, and today there are only eight non-consolidated boroughs (plus the community of Groton Long Point) and one non-consolidated city.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey

A Pennsylvania township is a unit of local government, responsible for services such as police departments, local road and street maintenance. It acts the same as a city or borough. Townships were established based on convenient geographical boundaries and vary in size from six to fifty-two square miles (10135 km2).

A New Jersey township is similar, in that it is a form of municipal government equal in status to a village, town, borough, or city, and provides similar services to a Pennsylvania township, and varies in size from one-tenth (Shrewsbury Twp.) to one hundred (Jackson Twp.) square miles.

Southern states

Townships in Jefferson County, Arkansas as of the 2010 U.S. Census Jefferson County Arkansas 2010 Township Map large.jpg
Townships in Jefferson County, Arkansas as of the 2010 U.S. Census

In the Southern U.S., outside cities and towns there is generally no local government other than the county.

Arkansas and North Carolina

Arkansas townships are the divisions of a county. Each township includes unincorporated areas; some may have incorporated cities or towns within part of their boundaries. Arkansas townships have limited purposes in modern times. However, the U.S. census does list Arkansas population based on townships (sometimes referred to as "county subdivisions" or "minor civil divisions"). Townships are also of value for historical purposes in terms of genealogical research. Each town or city is within one or more townships in an Arkansas county based on census maps and publications. [7]

North Carolina is no exception to that rule, but it does have townships as minor geographical subdivisions of counties, including both unincorporated territory and also land within the bounds of incorporated cities and towns (as well as the extraterritorial jurisdiction of municipalities). Every county is divided into townships as mandated since the North Carolina Constitution of 1868. Some urbanized counties such as Mecklenburg County (Charlotte) now number their townships (e.g. "Township 12") rather than using names. Townships all over the state used to have some official organization and duties but now are only considered ceremonial divisions of each county. Township names are still used quite extensively at the county government level in North Carolina as a way of determining and dividing up areas for administrative purposes; primarily for collecting county taxes, determining fire districts (e.g. Lebanon Township in Durham County gives its name to the Lebanon Volunteer Fire Department), for real estate purposes such as categorizing land deeds, land surveys and other real estate documents, and for voter registration purposes.[ citation needed ] In most areas of North Carolina that are outside any municipal limit (outside cities or towns), townships are used to determine voter polling places, and in most instances county election boards divide up their voter precincts by township.[ citation needed ] However, there is no government per se at the township level in North Carolina, and there are no elected or appointed offices associated with townships.

Western states


In 2015 Utah created a form of civil township called a metro township. While each metro township has a mayor [8] and township council, and manage a budget, and cannot be annexed without its permission, [9] its powers of taxation are limited, and must contract with other municipalities or municipal shared-service districts [10] for most municipal services (police, [11] for example). The five metro townships—all located in Salt Lake County—are Kearns, Magna, [12] Copperton, Emigration Canyon and White City.

States with civil townships

States which have subdivided counties completely or partially into towns or townships.
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Currently uses towns
Currently uses townships
Currently varies
Formerly used townships
Formerly varied US States with Township Governments.svg
States which have subdivided counties completely or partially into towns or townships.
  Currently uses towns
  Currently uses townships
  Currently varies
  Formerly used townships
  Formerly varied

As of 2012, there were 16,360 organized town or township governments in the following 21 states: [13]

States without civil townships

There were 29 states without organized town or township governments as of 2012: [13]

States which once had but no longer have civil townships


The provinces of Eastern Canada have, or have had, divisions that are analogous to the townships of the United States.

Ontario and Quebec continue to have townships that subdivide their respective counties.

Local government was introduced into Nova Scotia (which at the time also included the maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island) in 1749 in the form of townships controlled by a court of quarter sessions, a system that had characterized local government in Britain and Virginia. This court had both administrative and judicial functions, and took over most responsibilities of local government, including the appointment of necessary officers. A form of direct democracy was introduced into the townships by settlers from New England in 1760 with the help of a provincial statute. However, the statute was disallowed by the King in 1761, and direct democracy was replaced in the townships that had adopted it by the quarter sessions. Acts in 1855 and 1856 provided for the incorporation of self-governing townships, but only Yarmouth partook in incorporating, and abandoned the prospect after three years. These acts were repealed in 1879, and townships were replaced in the third quarter of the 19th century by self-governing municipalities. [26]

See also

Related Research Articles

A county is a geographic region of a country used for administrative or other purposes in some modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French comté denoting a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of a count (earl) or a viscount. Literal equivalents in other languages, derived from the equivalent of "count", are now seldom used officially, including comté, contea, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, graafschap, and zhupa in Slavic languages; terms equivalent to 'commune' or 'community' are now often instead used.

A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or civil parish. The term is in use in Canada, China, Hungary, Romania, Taiwan, and the United States. The equivalent term shire town is used in the US state of Vermont and in some other English-speaking jurisdictions. County towns have a similar function in the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as historically in Jamaica.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Town</span> Type of human settlement

A town is a human settlement where people live. It refers to the totality of human community with all the social, material, organizational, spiritual, and cultural elements that sustain it. Towns are generally larger than villages and smaller than cities, though the criteria to distinguish between them vary considerably in different parts of the world.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Township</span> Designation for types of settlement as administrative territorial entities

A township is a kind of human settlement or administrative subdivision, with its meaning varying in different countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">County (United States)</span> Subdivision used by most states in the United States

In the United States, a county or county equivalent is an administrative or political subdivision of a state which consists of a geographic region with specific boundaries and usually some level of governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 states, while Louisiana and Alaska have functionally equivalent subdivisions called parishes and boroughs, respectively. The specific governmental powers of counties vary widely between the states, with many providing some level of services to civil townships, municipalities, and unincorporated areas. Certain municipalities are in multiple counties; New York City is uniquely partitioned into five counties, referred to at the city government level as boroughs. Some municipalities have been consolidated with their county government to form consolidated city-counties, or have been legally separated from counties altogether to form independent cities. Conversely, those counties in Connecticut, Rhode Island, eight of Massachusetts's 14 counties, and Alaska's Unorganized Borough have no government power, existing only as geographic distinctions.

Special districts are independent, special-purpose governmental units that exist separately from local governments such as county, municipal, and township governments, with substantial administrative and fiscal independence. They are formed to perform a single function or a set of related functions. The term special district governments as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau excludes school districts. In 2017, the U.S. had more than 51,296 special district governments.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Unincorporated area</span> Region of land not governed by own local government

An unincorporated area is a region that is not governed by a local municipal corporation. Widespread unincorporated communities and areas are a feature of the United States and Canada. Most other countries of the world have either no unincorporated areas at all or very few of them.

A census-designated place (CDP) is a concentration of population defined by the United States Census Bureau for statistical purposes only.

A minor civil division (MCD) is a term used by the United States Census Bureau for primary governmental and/or administrative divisions of a county or county-equivalent, typically a municipal government such as a city, town, or civil township. MCDs are used for statistical purposes by the Census Bureau, and do not necessarily represent the primary form of local government. They range from non-governing geographical survey areas to municipalities with weak or strong powers of self-government. Some states with large unincorporated areas give substantial powers to counties; others have smaller or larger incorporated entities with governmental powers that are smaller than the MCD level chosen by the Census.

A township in some states of the United States is a small geographic area.

An incorporated town is a town that is a municipal corporation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local government in the United States</span> Governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state

Most U.S. states and territories have at least two tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. Louisiana uses the term parish and Alaska uses the term borough for what the U.S. Census Bureau terms county equivalents in those states. Civil townships or towns are used as subdivisions of a county in 20 states, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Borough (United States)</span> Administrative division at the local government level in the United States

A borough in some U.S. states is a unit of local government or other administrative division below the level of the state. The term is currently used in six states:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New England town</span> Basic unit of local government in the six New England states of the United States

The town is the basic unit of local government and local division of state authority in the six New England states. Most other U.S. states lack a direct counterpart to the New England town. New England towns overlay the entire area of a state, similar to civil townships in other states where they exist, but they are fully functioning municipal corporations, possessing powers similar to cities and counties in other states. New Jersey's system of equally powerful townships, boroughs, towns, and cities is the system which is most similar to that of New England. New England towns are often governed by a town meeting legislative body. The great majority of municipal corporations in New England are based on the town model; there, statutory forms based on the concept of a compact populated place are uncommon, though elsewhere in the U.S. they are prevalent. County government in New England states is typically weak at best, and in some states nonexistent. Connecticut, for example, has no county governments, nor does Rhode Island. Both of those states retain counties only as geographic subdivisions with no governmental authority, while Massachusetts has abolished eight of fourteen county governments so far. Counties serve mostly as dividing lines for the states' judicial systems and some other state services in the southern New England states, while providing varying services in the more sparsely populated three northern New England states.

The following is a set–index article, providing a list of lists, for the cities, towns and villages within the jurisdictional United States. It is divided, alphabetically, according to the state, territory, or district name in which they are located.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Village (United States)</span> Administrative division at the local government level in the United States

In the United States, the meaning of village varies by geographic area and legal jurisdiction. In many areas, "village" is a term, sometimes informal, for a type of administrative division at the local government level. Since the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from legislating on local government, the states are free to have political subdivisions called "villages" or not to and to define the word in many ways. Typically, a village is a type of municipality, although it can also be a special district or an unincorporated area. It may or may not be recognized for governmental purposes.


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