Two Government Categories

As of April 2002 there were more than 2,700 government units in Michigan, and they fall into two categories.
  1. General-purpose units are counties, cities, villages, and townships. Each has an elected board as their legislative body.
  2. Special-purpose units are K-12 school districts, intermediate school districts, regional educational service agencies, community colleges and authorities; all have a governing body that may be elected or appointed.
General-Purpose Government
General-purpose units of government operate with restricted power, that is, the unit’s authority is granted by the state, either through the constitution or statute. Whether a unit is empowered to engage in an activity depends on whether the state has expressly granted it authority to do so. In Michigan, counties, townships and villages begin as general-law units, but if they meet certain statutory requirements, they may change to charter (home-rule) units, by law, all cities are charter units. (Wayne County is the only home rule county in Michigan).
  • General-law units may organize themselves and exercise authority only in the way that the state constitution and statues have specifically set forth for this type of government.
  • A Charter (home-rule) unit has more control over its organization and broader authority than does a general-law unit. The unit’s charter sets forth the taxing and borrowing limits (subject to state law), number of departments, and types of services to be delivered to residents.
Charter townships (home-rule)
State law gives the home-rule (charter) option to townships of 2,000 or more residents. 1 advantage of home rule for townships is some protection against being annexed by adjacent cities.
  • Townships may achieve charter status via 
    1. A resolution adopted by the township board (example: Plymouth Township) (Millage is restricted to the amount levied on the date the resolution was adopted)
    2. A vote of township residents (Canton is an example) (The latter course gives a township greater taxing authority than the former)
  • Charter townships are given 5 mills upon voter approval, plus the authority to go to the voters for additional mills
Of Michigan’s 1,242 townships, 130 have opted for charter status.

Intergovernmental Cooperation
The Michigan Legislature has enacted several statutes permitting intergovernmental cooperation. Any local government is authorized to engage in a given activity or provide a given service may do so collaboratively.