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Modern House


I DON’T Understand This About Michigan..

I DON’T understand this about Michigan.. - If this topic was a relationship on Facebook, it would be “it’s complicated”. One of the most confusing things people come to me with when moving to Michigan (even moving within too) has to do with villages, townships, cities, and counties. What’s the point of them? Why are they so gosh darn confusing? And why should you care? Well, stick around and find out!

To put all this nonsense or what may seem like nonsense in a better perspective, I'm just going to define everything based on the hierarchy of local Michigan governments and end off with why you should care. From smallest to largest in most cases, you have a village, city, township, and county. So many people use all these terms interchangeably or just say “cities and towns” in Michigan. I’m guilty of it too when explaining, but there aren’t any towns in Michigan, it’s simply the hierarchy I touched on. If you’re not in a city, you’re in a township.

So starting with Villages. What are they and why should you care? Great question. To define the “why” I’m going to reference the structure of local government by member resource services. During the nineteenth century, the state legislature recognized the need to incorporate the densely settled communities within the basic pattern of counties and townships. The system of local government written into Michigan’s 1908 and 1963 constitutions recognized the continuing existence of counties and townships, with the voluntary incorporation of the more densely settled areas as cities and villages. An innovation in the 1908 constitution was a provision for city and village home rule charters – a change which was to have many repercussions. When comparing the difference between a village and a city, is that wherever an area is incorporated as a village, it stays within the township. Which I’ll explain more. Residents who live in a village participate in township affairs, and pay additional taxes while having their own village government. When incorporated as a city, it would remove the area from the township, and city residents would participate in county elections and pay county taxes, just as village residents do but the city folks would be removed from township units. The point of a village is to essentially establish local ordinances and provide for local services such as: police, fire, utilities, public works, etc. Some of the local duties required by the state are not done by the village, but rather the township which would include, property assessing, collecting taxes, and administering county, state and national elections. The majority of villages in Michigan are still governed under the General Law Village Act, which is an ACT to provide for the government of certain villages; to define their powers and duties.

Think of it like a corporation, you have the CEO and founder sitting on top with hundreds of employees under them, they decide it would probably be a good idea to put in managers at these different levels to be able maintain community, work towards progress and ensure that residents aren’t just a tiny fish in a huge pond.

So as an incorporated city being removed from a township, the state has required duties on top of their own services. So on top of assessing properties and doing the collection of taxes like I mentioned earlier, the city is also responsible for registration of voters and conduct within their boundaries. It has been noticed that with the greater independence of a city, in doing all its functions in one integrated unit, there’s been the creation of many small cities in Michigan in the past few decades. This trend actually occurred with villages too, where they would become incorporated as a city, where they could then achieve a separation of jurisdiction from the township. When comparing all these different terms to each other, City and village are the closest to one another since they have this “home rule power” which is something you’d probably see if you were searching around trying to figure out this verbiage. Home rule frees cities and villages to devise forms of government and exercise powers of local self-government under locally prepared charters adopted by local referendum. To keep it simple and understandable, they can do almost anything not prohibited by law. That may seem unheard of, but actually, Michigan became the seventh state to join in a movement which now includes over 37 states. It was more than a national trend which motivated the Michigan Constitutional Convention early in this century. As much as I say cities and villages are similar, they are also different because villages are apart of townships and cities are not, and when people are wanting or seeking the answer to what type of local government is for the people, the answer is within townships, large and small, as they provide services tailored to meet the needs of their residents. Township officials represent the level of government closest and most responsive to the wishes of the people.

Townships are really a product of Michigan's early history according to the Michigan townships association. There are two types that you’ll most likely come across, a township and a charter township. There are roughly 10x more townships than there are charter townships. According to an article written by Michigan State University pertaining to the understanding of townships in Michigan, Townships are the original units of government formed in the state. Typically, though not always, townships are 36 square miles in size. Each township is governed by a board of trustees consisting of the township supervisor, township clerk, township treasurer, and two or four elected trustees. The entire state is covered by township governments except for areas within cities. Aside from fire and law enforcement, some other common programs townships are involved in are parks and recreation opportunities, public water and sewer services, trash collection and recycling programs, sidewalks and trails and cemeteries. Townships have these broad powers to enforce ordinances and may use sources of user fees, permits, and special assessments on properties to generate income. If a township has over 2,000 or more residents, they may be able to incorporate as a charter township. A charter township is a status or special classification created by the Michigan legislature in the 1940’s to provide additional powers and streamlined administration for governing a growing community. In a charter township, residents and officers will have all the powers, privileges, immunities and liabilities possessed by a township. Charter townships may do so by either a vote of its board or the members of the township. A primary motivation for townships to adopt the charter form is to provide greater protection against annexation by a city, which in simple terms is getting an area taken by force or without permission. You can look, but you can’t touch friends.

When chatting about counties, they are simply made up of villages, cities, and townships. There’s not too much to say about these as most states have them. When determining the size and shape of each county, there’s several factors to determine that, based on geographic, political, administrative, and historical boundaries.

Now that the quick vocabulary quiz is over, you might be asking, okay Andrew why does any of this matter? And it’s truly situational based on your wants and needs honestly. The main thing to keep in mind is how it affects your taxes, as I mentioned there’s a village tax, that could mess with your affordability. Townships typically have lower taxes, and fewer services, whereas a city has higher taxes and a larger catalog of services. Fun fact 96% of the state's land is governed by townships. Townships are oftentimes larger in Michigan than cities, so they have more rural opportunities. It kinda goes back to when I made the Michigan lifestyle video, about living on more land versus city. It can almost be said as city vs township. I wanted to touch on this topic to create awareness for when you decide to buy a home in Michigan, figure out what village, city, or township the home you’re interested in is located so you can jump over to the Michigan property tax estimator which I will link in the description to help you get a sense of approximately how much you’ll be paying. Understand that within the cities and villages, they are oftentimes kept to a higher standard, which not only goes for all the public services offered, but maybe it’s a historic district where you can’t modernize the home to your liking. For example, in Northville’s historic district, the local municipality strives to maintain a historic look to the town, and any improvement you do on the exterior of your home needs to be approved by some directors involved in the maintenance of the historic district. In today’s housing market it’s extremely easy to overlook a lot of these little details, Realtors do too, and that’s when it really comes down to communicating your wants and needs with your realtor and talking with the local municipality early on if there are big changes you want to make or even to get a better understanding of what services they are and what your property tax bill even goes towards. You pay for it, so you should know what it’s paying for. Some communities need accountability, so you find some of the services that are offered aren’t being done. Maybe it’s time you start asking questions, it doesn’t make you bad or snotty person, it just makes you someone compassionate about the community you live in and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I know this topic is dry and not very entertaining but I hope it answered some questions for those of you who know absolutely nothing about Michigan's local government and structure.

For those of you who have watched this far, what are your thoughts on Michigan’s strategy for structuring local governments? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.


→Michigan Property Tax Estimator:



Andrew McManamon is a Michigan REALTOR® with Signature Sotheby’s International Realty and provides real estate services to Buyers, Sellers and Investors throughout SE Michigan including Livingston County, Oakland County, Washtenaw County, Genesee County & beyond. Andrew has become one of the rising stars of Michigan real estate agents. Prior to his real estate career Andrew was responsible for managing a senior living facility in Brighton, Michigan as a dining supervisor and an activities assistant. Andrew’s passion to help people is unlike any other, and he continues to strive to be best resource he can be. Andrew graduated from Cleary University in Howell, Michigan with a double major and currently resides in Brighton, Michigan.


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