Michigan Townships

What it Means

Michigan is one of 20 states that currently have some form of township government. There are more than 16,600 towns and townships in the United States. More than 60 million people live in US towns and townships. This represents more than 20% of the United States population. Townships were actually in place before most of the Midwestern states had achieved statehood. The Northwest Ordinance enacted in 1787 by Congress established townships as the initial government of territories which later became states. Townships are generally found in 3 regions of the United States: New England, Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. There are regional distinctions between the responsibilities and operation of townships.

Grid Pattern

Michigan townships were established utilizing a grid pattern. A true township is 6 miles by 6 miles (total of 36 square miles). Over time, some townships have lost area as villages and cities were established. Some townships are less than 36 square miles because of their proximity to one of Michigan's Great Lakes. The cities of Livonia and Taylor were at one time a "true township" (36 square miles). Canton is a true township.

Governmental Powers

Township governmental powers in Michigan have evolved to the point where it is difficult to differentiate townships, cities and villages. Significant differences do exist between the three types of municipalities. These differences are important to the people charged with administering township affairs and deciding township policies. Townships and Counties are statutory units of government, having only those powers expressly provided or fairly implied by state law. Cities and most villages on the other had are vested with home rule powers and can do almost anything not prohibited by law.

Michigan Township Facts

  • There are 2 types of townships in Michigan – general law and charter townships. In 1947 the Michigan Legislature created charter townships as a special township classification. Charter townships are provided greater protection against annexation by a city. In addition to Canton, there are 127 Michigan charter townships. 
  • There are 1,242 Michigan townships, which very in considerably in geographical size, population, location and organizations structure and services provided. Michigan townships range in size from 10 residents to 95,648.
  • Large townships are governed by a township board consisting of seven members – a supervisor, clerk and treasurer and 4 trustees. The township board may also hire a manager, assessor, police and fire chiefs, and other necessary personnel to properly and efficiently operate the township.
  • State law permits townships to perform mandated and permissive functions. Mandated functions are activities that townships are required to perform. These include assessment administration, elections administration and tax collection. State law details the methods to be utilized in the delivery of these services.
  • In addition to broad mandates, there are other, more narrowly defined state requirements. These mandates address the adoption of budgets, accounting, investments and deposits and other financial matters.
  • The Township Zoning Act gives townships broad powers to enact and enforce ordinances. Zoning ordinances give the township the authority to regulate land use, while many other specific ordinances control activities that infringe on citizen rights.
  • The Michigan constitution and state statutes limit the amount of property tax millage that townships can levy for general township operations. General Law townships (the vast majority of small Michigan townships) are allocated at least 1 mill. Charter townships created by referendum (vote of the people) may levy up to 5 mills. In either case, the 5 mill limit may be increased up to 10 mills with a vote of the electors.
  • Townships may also utilize other sources of revenue to support services. User fees, permits, fines and special assessments on real property are utilized most often.