Of the eight states that administer elections on the local level, Michigan is the largest—involving 83 county clerks, 1,240 township clerks, 274 city clerks, and 93 village clerks. Michigan elections are administered by 1,690 county and local election officials—making it the most decentralized election system in the nation (Bureau of Elections, June 2011).
As Michigan’s local governments have experienced to varying degrees slight to extremely severe revenue declines in recent years due to the changing Michigan economy and the collapse of the residential housing market, state leaders have extolled local governments to save money by cooperating and combining local government services. There is a presumption behind the common wisdom that services can be performed cheaper if they are spread over larger geographic areas and populations. This principle, called “economies of scale,” often exists in services that involve high fixed costs, such as investments in equipment or facilities.
Land Use Regulations
Americans have a long tradition of considering the ownership and enjoyment of property to be free of government intrusion, but what happens when the choices and actions of one property owner have an impact on the value of another person's property, or another person’s enjoyment of their property, or on the local government’s ability to attract new business?
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 other persons 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.
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.
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. In most states, townships take care of local roads in their jurisdictions, but 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.
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.