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Administrative divisions of Michigan facts for kids

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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.


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, as required by the state constitution from the a sheriff, county clerk, county treasurer, register of deeds, and prosecuting attorney. The current constitution had a county board of supervisors, a body composed of township and city officials, which was struck down by Federal Courts.

Counties have four options for their government form: general law, unified, optional unified and charter. All forms are restricted to having those constitutional elected county official continue to be elected under all options. Both version of the unified plan makes the commission only a legislative body and adds an executive and a department structure changeable by board action. With the regular Unified plan, a modified council-manager form, has the county commissioners selecting an appointed county manager to head up the executive branch not under the elected officials. 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. Bay and Oakland have a county executive under the optional unified plan.

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 three or five members either elected or appointed by the county board of commissioners.


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.

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 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.


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 January 2011, there are 256 villages in Michigan, of which 46 are designated home rule villages, and 210 designated as general law villages.

General law villages are weak mayor-council forms of government. The mayor equivalent is the annually elected village president, who is a member of the village council and its presiding officer. The village's clerk and treasurer are elective offices unless changed to appointive offices. The village may establish additional officer of the village including the street administrator, who is appointed by the president with the council's consent. Besides the president, the council has either four or six trustees with six as the legal standard. The village may either elect three trustees every two years with four year terms or all six every two-year term. Reducing the number of trustees to four, appointing the clerk and treasurer or to create the position of village manager takes a village ordinance approved by a two-thirds majority of the council subject to referendum. Additional village boards, both appointed and ex officio, can include the boards of registration, election commissioners, election inspectors and cemetery trustees.

Home rule villages (Home Rule Village Act) must have an elected president, clerk and legislative body and indicate the election or appointment of other essential officer and boards. The president may be selected by the village legislative body from within its own ranks instead of being directed elected.


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. All territory not within an incorporated city in the state is part of a township. As of May 2007, there were 1,242 civil townships, 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.

A general law township is governed by a board of trustees composed of a township supervisor, clerk, treasurer and either 2 or 4 trustees. In this form of government which combines executive and legislative functions, while the township supervisor is the presiding and executive officer of the township board, her or she is simply a first among equals on the board.

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.

A charter township is governed by a board of trustees composed of a township supervisor, clerk, treasurer and 4 trustees. A significant difference in the form of government between a charter township and general law township is that a charter township may appoint a township superintendent as the township's chief administrative officer (CAO) who is delegated specific duties and responsibilities by law. If a charter township does not appoint a superintendent it can employ a township manager as the township's CAO, however, the township manager only has duties and responsibilities directly delegated to it by the township board of trustees.

Special units

Special districts and other public bodies may be set up as authorized by the legislation required by the State Constitution Article VIII sections 27 (Metropolitan governments and authorities) and 28 (cooperative agreements). The primary laws passed under sections 28 was the Urban Cooperation Act 7 of 1967 (Ex. Sess.) that allow cooperative agreements between existing municipalities to form joint governmental bodies to operate a share governmental function.

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