Local government in Michigan

The state of Michigan is largely divided in the same way as many other U.S. states, but is distinct in its usage of charter townships. Michigan ranks 13th among the fifty states in terms of the number of local governmental entities.

The state is divided into 83 counties, and further divided into 1,240 townships, 276 cities, and 257 villages. Additionally, the state consists of 553 school districts, 57 intermediate school districts, 14 planning and development regions, and over 300 special districts and authorities.[1]


Michigan is divided into 83 counties, the primary administrative division of Michigan. This local government division has its greatest effect on unincorporated lands within the county, and can provide service which can include law enforcement, justice administration, health care, among other basic services. Where places within the county are incorporated, and thus granted home rule, the power of the county government is greatly diminished.

The government of the state's counties is largely structured as county board of commissioners, which function as the legislative body of the county with some executive powers with several elected executives from the County Clerk to the County Treasurer. However, four Michigan counties (Bay County, Oakland County, Wayne County, and Macomb County) function under a county executive form of government, where the executive powers are removed from the county commission and turned over to a County Executive.

Wayne and Macomb Counties are the only counties in the state to have adopted a Home Rule Charter. All other counties are general law counties.

Road commissions

While considered a part of the county government in Michigan, the county road commission is a separate independent unit of government from the general county government. They may be merged with the general county government as in Macomb and Wayne Counties. A board of county road commissioners consists of 3 or 5 members either elected or appointed by the county board of commissioners.[2]


Of the three types of local government, cities are the most autonomous from county government, with the responsibility of providing almost all services to its residents instead of county services. The city is one of two types of incorporated municipality, the other being the village. Townships and charter townships are not municipal corporations in Michigan but are administrative divisions of the county in which they are located. Thus, townships cannot cross county lines whereas cities can.

As of 2007, there are 274 incorporated cities in Michigan. Since 1909, Michigan law has provided that all cities are charter cities with home rule.[1]

Most cities in Michigan operate under post-1909 home rule charters, drafted by city officials and approved by city residents. A few cities that were incorporated before the Home Rule Cities Act of 1909 continue to operate under older charters granted by the Michigan Legislature. These cities nevertheless have power to amend or revise their charters at any time, and otherwise have the same home rule powers as cities with post-1909 charters.

Cities may choose between a mayor-council form of government, a city commission form of government, or a council manager form of government. Cities report to the state through the county or counties in which they are located but they are not subject to county oversight, and they are completely separate, geographically and administratively, from any township or townships in which they may formerly have been located.

When, for example, the City of Milan was the Village of Milan (to 1967), it was located in and subject to oversight by York Township (of which it was the seat) in Washtenaw County and by Milan Township (of which it was also the seat) in Monroe County. As a city, it is no longer part of either York Township or Milan Township, and is no longer subject to any oversight by either county government, except that it matters related to the Washtenaw County side of the city are reported to the state through Washtenaw County and matters related to the Monroe County side of the city are reported through Monroe County.

Cities can levy a limited income tax on residents, non-residents, and corporations as set forth under state law.[3]


In Michigan, villages function much like cities, but differ in that villages are not completely administratively autonomous of the township(s) in which they are located, reducing their home rule powers. Because of this, statistically, their population is also included in the population of the township in which they reside. Village governments are required to share some of the responsibilities to their residents with the township. As of 2007, there are 259 villages in Michigan, of which 48 are designated home rule villages, and 211 designated as general law villages.[4] However, under the Michigan Constitution of 1963, any village has the authority to modify its charter, whether granted as a home rule charter or enacted as a general law charter.[5]


In Michigan, townships are a statutory unit of local government, meaning that they have only those powers expressly provided or fairly implied by state law. They are the most basic form of local government in Michigan, and should be distinguished from survey townships. As of May 2007, there were 1,242 civil townships,[6] divided into general law townships with the basic powers of local government, and charter townships with somewhat superior authority and privileges.

General law township

General law townships form the majority of civil townships in Michigan; these offer the most basic of services, and generally follow the boundary lines of survey townships. In sparsely populated areas of Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, a township may consist of several survey townships and cover hundreds of square miles. In other areas of the state, townships are typically the 36 square miles (93 km2) of land of a single survey township, or less, due to city formation, irregular geographical boundaries, or when one survey township has been subdivided into two or more civil townships.

Charter township

A unique form of civil township in Michigan is the charter township, a status created by act of the state legislature in 1947, which grants additional powers and streamlined administration of townships. Charter townships that meet certain criteria are also provided greater protection against annexation by a city or village. Townships must have at least 2,000 residents before they can seek charter status. The means by which a charter is approved affects a charter township's taxing ability. If township voters approve the charter status, the township may levy up to 5 mills without voter approval. If the charter status is approved by the township board alone, the township board may not levy any millage beyond that allowed for general law townships without voter approval. As of April 2001, there were 127 charter townships in Michigan.


  1. ^ a b Michigan's System of Local Government, Michigan Manual 2005-2006, Chapter VIII, Introduction, pp. 715-718. Accessed 2007-05-15.
  2. ^ "Do all counties have road commissions?". County Road Association of Michigan. Retrieved 9 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "City Income Tax Act 284 of 1964". The Michigan Law Code. State of Michigan Legislature. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  4. ^ Michigan Municipal League, Email Received May 23, 2007
  5. ^ Michigan Constitution of 1963, Article VII, § 22, Effective Jan. 1, 1964. Accessed 2007-05-15.
  6. ^ Michigan Townships.org Accessed 2007-05-15

External links

  • Website of the Michigan Townships Association
  • Website of the Michigan Municipal League
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