A civil township is a widely-used unit of local government in the United States, subordinate to 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 usually coincide.
Township functions are generally attended to by a governing board (the name varies from state to state) and a clerk. Township officers frequently include Justice of the Peace, road commissioner, assessor, constable, and surveyors. 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.
Midwestern, Central and Western States
Most western states have only survey townships, such that all local government outside of incorporated municipalities is performed at the county level.
In the Great Lakes states, civil townships are 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. (In Illinois, for example, townships in the northern part of the state are active in providing public services, such as roads, whereas townships in southern Illinois frequently abandon these services in favor 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, townships can incorporate as charter townships, a status intended to protect against annexation from nearby municipalities and which grants the township powers similar to cities.
In New England and New York, the principal forms of local government are the town and the city, although survey townships are used in unorganized portions of Maine. Residents of these states do not generally recognize the word "township" as applying to their local governments.
In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the township is a unit of local government responsible for services such as local road and street maintenance outside of towns or boroughs. These states have strong county government, and their state constitutions prohibit special legislation. Townships were established based on convenient geographical boundaries and vary in size from six to forty square miles (10-74 kmē).
In the South, outside of cities there is generally no local government beyond the county. As these states were surveyed prior to the Northwest Ordinance, there are no survey townships, either.
North Carolina is an exception to this rule, and even the towns have townships due to extraterritorial jurisdiction. Numerous independent townships also exist.
- National Association of Towns and Townships (http://www.natat.org/)