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A civil township is a widely used unit of local government in the United Statesmarker, subordinate to, and geographic divisions of, a county. Specific responsibilities and the degree of autonomy vary based on each state. Civil townships are distinct from survey townships, but in states that have both, the boundaries often coincide. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies civil townships (called "towns" in New England, New York and Wisconsin) as minor civil divisions.

Township functions are generally attended to by a governing board (the name varies from state to state) and a clerk or trustee. 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 even cemetery services.

Midwestern, central and western states

Most western states have only survey townships, so that all local government outside of incorporated municipalities is performed at the county level.

In the Upper Midwestern states near the Great Lakesmarker, civil townships (known in Michiganmarker as general law townships) are often, but not always, overlaid on the 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, Illinoismarker townships in the northern part of the state are active in providing public services — such as road maintenance, after-school care, and senior services — whereas townships in southern Illinois frequently abandon these services in favor of the county. In contrast, civil townships in Indianamarker are operated in a relatively consistent manner state-wide and tend to be well organized, with each served by a township trustee and a three-member board. 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.

Civil townships in these states are generally not considered to be incorporated, and nearby cities may annex land in adjoining townships with relative ease. In Michigan, general law townships can incorporate 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 Wisconsinmarker, such regions are known as "towns" rather than townships, but they are essentially the same thing. In Minnesotamarker, state statute refers to such entities as towns yet requires them to have a name in the form "Name Township". 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. Ohiomarker law includes a provision by which land may exist dually within a city (or village) and township; in such cases, property owners pay taxes for both the township and municipality. Ten other states also allow townships and municipalities to overlap.

See also:Political subdivisions of Wisconsin

Pennsylvania and New Jersey

A Pennsylvania township is a unit of local government, responsible for services such as local road and street maintenance outside of cities or boroughs. Townships were established based on convenient geographical boundaries and vary in size from six to forty square miles (10–74 km²). New Jersey township is a form of municipal government equal in status to a village, town, borough, or city.

Northeastern states

In New Englandmarker and New Yorkmarker, counties are further subdivided into towns and cities, the principal forms of local government. These states use the term town, instead of township. The settlement patterns of these towns are more like civil townships than "towns" as that term is generally understood in most of the United States. However, New England and New York towns are incorporated municipalities. Some residents of these states do not generally recognize the word "township" as applying to their local governments, although the U.S. Census Bureau treats them identically. (Even though towns in these states are legally equal to cities in status, the Census is more concerned with patterns of settlement and development than the means of government; New England and New York towns are similar to townships in the northern Midwest in typically having one or more small built-up central districts surrounded by a much larger area of less intensive development. However, cities in New England may have this development pattern as well.) In sparsely settled portions of New Hampshiremarker, Vermontmarker and, especially, Mainemarker, county subdivisions that are not incorporated are referred to as townships, or by other terms such as 'gore,' 'grant,' 'location,' 'plantation', or 'purchase.'

See also: Political subdivisions of New York

Southern states

Map of Person County, North Carolina with typical Municipal and Township organization
In the South, outside of cities and towns there is generally no local government beyond the county. As these states were surveyed prior to the Northwest Ordinance, there are generally no survey townships, with the exception of Alabamamarker.

North Carolinamarker is an exception, and even the towns have townships because of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Numerous independent townships also exist because every county is divided into townships as mandate since the North Carolina Constitution of 1868. Some urbanize counties such as Mecklenburg Countymarker (Charlottemarker) now number their townships (i.e. "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 and school districts, for real estate purposes such as categorizing land deeds, land surveys and other real estate documents, and for voter registration purposes. In most areas of North Carolina that are outside of 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.

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