Under the Articles of
Confederation and later the Constitution, land not included within the
boundaries of the original thirteen states became public domain, owned and
administered by the national government. Congress provided for surveying and
selling public lands in the Land Ordinance of 1785. This law established the
rectangular system of survey, which divided land into townships six miles
square, with sections a mile square containing 640 acres, and quarter sections
of 160 acres.
A unit of government found
primarily in the northeast and north central United States; it is a subdivision of a county and is usually 36 square miles (about 93
square kilometer) in area. The term civil township is sometimes used to
distinguish it from the congressional, or survey, township of six miles by six
miles, which is not a unit of government.
In some states a township
meeting, patterned after the
town meeting, levies township taxes, makes appropriations, enacts bylaws, and
serves in general as the policy-determining organ of the township. A township
board, either elected or ex officio, ordinarily appoints certain officers and
performs other administrative duties. If there is no township meeting the board
customarily acts as the township's policy-determining agency. In some states
there is a principal administrative officer, usually known as supervisor or
trustee. Other township offices commonly include those of clerk, treasurer,
assessor, road commissioner, and supervisor of public assistance. Justices of
the peace and constables, although they are state rather than local officers,
are commonly elected from the townships. Township functions vary widely, but the
major services most commonly performed are maintenance of local roads and
administration of public assistance. Property assessment is a township function
in some instances, and in a few states the township serves as an area for school
In the second half of the
20th century the US
township system as a unit of local government has declined steadily. In some
areas it has been eliminated and its functions have been transferred to the
the largest single group of elected officials in Indiana, Township Trustees
govern 1,008 townships covering every part of the state. Like most elected
officials, the Township Trustee serves a four year term. Many Township Trustees
work at other jobs in addition to serving their constituents.
Assisting the Township Trustee in managing this
very localized form of government is a three member Township Board. Among its
duties are the adoption of the annual budget, serving as a board of finance, and
approving township contracts.
Indiana law requires that the Township Trustees
provide essential services to the residents and businesses of the Township.
Because of its "grassroots" structure, the Township Trustee system is
designed specifically to quickly meet the needs of the individual in an
Township Trustees are, by Indiana law, charged with the responsibility of
providing fire protection and ambulance service for the areas of the township not
incorporated into a city or town. The protection can be provided by contracting
with various fire departments, operating a Township Fire Department, or a
combination of both. (Indiana Code 36-8)
Overseeing the poor and distributing poor relief is a primary duty in many
townships. The trustee is charged to care for the poor by the most economical
means available and at the same time is charged to be sure that the necessary
needs of an individual or family are met. The applicant must show that they are
unable to provide those needs through personal effort and that they have
exhausted all other means.
Many trustees creatively cooperate with other
agencies and churches in their areas, keeping costs controlled and delivering
services needed. The advantage the Trustee's systems has over other forms of
welfare is the freedom to discern whether or not an individual has and is
willing to put forth that personal effort to help themselves. (Indiana Code Title 12)
Burial assistance is available from the Township Trustee when no other means of
payment are available. The trustee, according to Indiana Code Title 12, is to oversee the
burial of the indigent.
In townships with a population under 10,000 the trustee is also the township
assessor and is responsible for assessing the real and personal property within
their township. Since Center Township in Delaware County has a population
over 10,000 there is a separate township assessor.
Personal property is assessed yearly and consists
of mobile homes and tangible personal property of an individual, business, or
farm. Real property is assessed during a reassessment period with new buildings
being added yearly.
Each August, the trustee prepares and submits a budget for the incoming year to
the three-person township board for approval. As the Chief Financial Officer of
the township, the trustee pays and records all claims for the township expenses
and salaries and is responsible to keep accurate records and follow all the
financial guidelines set out in Indiana Code.
In January of each year, the trustee presents to
the board an annual report which shows all receipts, expenditures, investments
and debts. The approved report is then published in local papers for public
According to Indiana Code 23-14 the trustee is to provide and maintain cemeteries
located in the township. This includes those cemeteries which have been
Indiana Code 15-3-4 charges the trustee with destroying detrimental weeds within their
township. Guidelines for notification to the property owner are set within the
When a dispute arises between two land owners regarding placement and
maintenance of line fences, the trustee is to make determination according to
Indiana law 32-10-9.
If livestock is killed or damaged by unknown dog(s), the owner of the livestock
may file a report with the trustee who investigates the claim. If valid, the
trustee reimburses the owner for the loss from the dog fund which receives
moneys from the dog tags sold each year by the Trustee and Assessor within the
There are other areas of responsibility for trustees that are not widespread.
Parks and Recreation
Zoning & Planning
Small Claims Court
Emergency Medical Service
For more detailed information
about Township Government in Indiana: