What do Township Governments Do?

For communities like Clark Township, Township government is the form of government closest to the people.  Clark is one of 1,240 townships in Michigan that cover 96% of land in Michigan outside of cities.

Following is a brief description of what a township government like Clark Township is required to serve the needs of its residents. This information is from the Michigan  Township Association.

State law mandates three township functions: property assessment, tax collection and elections administration. In accordance with the wants and needs of their community, townships can also perform many other functions, such as planning and zoning, public safety, cemeteries, and parks and recreation.

Mandated Functions - Mandated functions are activities that townships are required to perform. The three broadest mandated responsibilities are assessment administration, elections administration and tax collection, which are legally assigned functions of the supervisor, clerk and treasurer, respectively. State laws also specify details for performing these functions.

Permissive Functions - Michigan townships are authorized to provide a wide variety of services that are generally expected from general purpose governmental entities. Virtually all townships provide fire protection and many also offer law enforcement as well. Parks and recreation programs, public water and sewer services, trash collection and recycling programs, sidewalks and trails, and cemeteries are other common township functions.

Land use Control - Local governments focus considerable attention reviewing plans for new development to prevent problems and conflicts before they materialize. Land use regulations protect the overall appearance of the community, protect the natural features that residents’ value, and help minimize the cost of local government services. Local governments exercise land use authority through local planning and zoning.

A master plan guides the overall direction of where land uses are most appropriate by considering local and regional assets, needs and opportunities, as well as development patterns driven by market forces and infrastructure improvements. Clark Township’s Master Plan was last revised in 2015.

A zoning ordinance is a township law establishing land development districts and regulating land development. In areas where the dominant intent of zoning is to protect the value and use of private residences, zoning often focuses on segregating incompatible land uses. Some planning experts, however, have moved away from primarily focusing on land use segregation and have, instead, returned to land use practices that were popular in the 19th century, such as mixing residential and commercial land uses to promote more walkable communities and fostering more social interaction. This emphasizes shared open spaces, homes built closer to sidewalks with alleys and smaller yards and building apartment lofts above storefronts.

Placemaking is another set of activities that build on existing assets in rural and urban communities to create more economically competitive and resilient communities. This is done by focusing on public and private improvements that make an area more attractive to new residents, talented workers, and new businesses. Communities that work together on regional placemaking projects and in collaboration with Regional Planning Offices have the potential to make the entire area more competitive for jobs in the global economy.

Other Programs and Services
Townships commonly operate cemeteries, parks and recreation programs, and fund senior citizen programs. They may also regulate or provide services to remove trash and recycle materials and provide municipal water and/or wastewater treatment systems. They market the agricultural, commercial and industrial opportunities that are available within the township and in the surrounding area.

Roads and Transportation
A significant difference between townships and cities and villages in Michigan is the general lack of authority in townships to perform maintenance and construction on roads. Michigan law transferred responsibility for roads to county road commissions and, most recently, provides the option for county boards of commissioners to transfer road responsibility from road commissions to themselves.

Property Taxes and Assessment
Property taxes are the primary revenue source of most local governments, and the administration of the property tax system is also a primary role of local governments. The power to tax is granted by the people to the government in the federal and state constitutions. The state’s taxation power extends in the constitution to local governments. However, the Michigan Constitution only authorizes cities, villages, townships, counties and some special purpose district to levy a property tax, and only cities can also levy an income tax. Local governments do not levy sales taxes or tax on business activities, other than the property tax.

Public Safety
It is customary for general purpose units of governments—cities, villages, townships and counties—to take some level of responsibility for the health, safety and general welfare of residents within their jurisdictions. How this responsibility is addressed is a governmental policy decision, meaning that local governments have broad discretion to decide what they will do, how much, and for whom. Public safety in some communities means that personnel are cross-trained to perform law enforcement, fire suppression and emergency medical services and that a unified department coordinates all three services. Clark Township relies on the Mackinac County Sheriff Department and Michigan State Police for law enforcement but maintains its own Fire and Rescue services.