There are several types of local government in the area, many of which have confusingly similar names, or are within the school districts or postal districts named after some other place.


Michigan's Counties are relatively weak, and do not have many direct regulatory powers. Among a County's State-authorized/mandated powers are,

  • An elected Sheriff, who is required to maintain a jail.
  • An elected Drain Commissioner, possessing some power over stormwater and irrigation through control over the agricultural and flood control drains and the financing thereof.
  • An elected Clerk/Register, in charge of coordinating election and vital records, such as birth certificates and deeds.
  • Washtenaw County Road Commission
  • Courts


General Law Townships

All land in Michigan was initially laid out into Townships, an area of land six miles by six miles (or as close to it as shorelines allow), divided into 36 one-square-mile "Sections". Townships have some state-authorized powers and responsibilities, including property assessment and tax collection (mandatory), planning & zoning, maintenance of a local police or fire department, parks and recreation programs, etc.



Villages are a governmental unit layered atop a Township, traditionally in areas of denser settlement - all Village residents are also residents of some Township. Villages have some additional taxing capacity and powers above Townships.



Cities, unlike Villages, are not part of Townships - the land area of a is cookie-cuttered out of Townships. In some cases, the move from a Village to a City is motivated by streamlining the local government - Milan, for example, spans two Counties and multiple Townships, and City status reduces the accounting headaches by limiting the number of governmental units involved. When Chelsea residents voted to become a City in 2004, subtraction from the underlying Sylvan and Lima Townships - and the small property tax levies of those Townships - was an explicit factor in the campaign.


Charter Townships

In 1947, the State of Michigan authorized Townships to incorporate as Charter Townships. Charter Townships have greater powers than general law Townships, and also streamline many administrative processes in the Superintendent position. One of the most well-known powers of Charter Township is significant protection from annexation of land by adjacent Cities, a protection that the Michigan Townships Association states motivated the creation of many Charter Townships across Michigan in the 1970s.


Authorities, Districts, Etc.

School district boundaries have little relation to the boundaries of other governmental units. They are generally related to an extended period of consolidation of smaller school district units, wherein historic one room schoolhouses are incorporated into larger districts. Redistricting and schools consolidation have gone on for years.

Various other authorities and districts overlap the above units of government, such as the Chelsea Area Fire Authority, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, Ypsilanti Community Utilities Authority, and various library districts. These governmental entities have very specifically limited powers and appointed boards, and overlap multiple other governmental units.

A number of authorities are in the form of a Downtown Development Authority, funded specifically by "tax increment financing" (or TIF), which captures a levy in their district in order to fund improvements in that district. DDA structures are a direct continuation of "urban renewal" efforts.