This article provides an overview of the townships in the state of Illinois. Illinois, with its 102 counties, has a unique system of civil townships, which are an essential part of the state's local governance structure. Here, we will explore the history, organization, and powers of these townships that play a significant role in local administration.

Illinois Townships: An Overview

Of Illinois' 102 counties, 84 are divided into civil townships, commonly referred to as "townships." In total, the state comprises 1,428 such townships, making them a majority among Illinois' local government entities.

Each township in Illinois has a legal name in the format "___ Township" or "Town of ____." State law mandates that no two townships within Illinois can share the same name. In cases where the Illinois Secretary of State identifies duplicate names in township abstracts, the county that most recently adopted the name is required to select a different name during the next county board meeting. Despite these regulations, some township names still duplicate in the state.

Historical Background

Local governance in the Illinois Territory and after the state's admission to the Union in 1818 was primarily managed by counties. While towns and villages existed, counties played a significant role. Chicago became the state's first city with its charter in 1837.

The 1848 Constitution of Illinois granted counties the authority to divide themselves into townships, expanding the local governance structure.

Variations and Exceptions

Cook County, while organized into townships, stands apart due to the city of Chicago's unique status. In 1902, Chicago voters decided to abolish the eight townships within the city, creating a distinct administrative arrangement.

Notably, 17 Illinois counties operate without township governments: Alexander, Calhoun, Edwards, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Menard, Monroe, Morgan, Perry, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, Scott, Union, Wabash, and Williamson. Instead, these counties are divided into precincts, with administrative functions performed by the county itself.

Organization and Naming

Illinois townships are governed by the Township Code (60 ILCS 1). Each county has the option to adopt or discontinue the township system of government.

Township names are chosen in accordance with the preferences of the inhabitants. In cases where unanimity on the name cannot be reached, commissioners responsible for dividing the county into townships may make the selection. Furthermore, if a majority of the township's voters petition the county board, the name of the township can be changed.

Each township is governed by an elected board, comprising a "supervisor" and four "trustees." Special provisions exist for the automatic creation of townships in areas where township organization is selected for the county but not yet organized within a municipality. Other provisions allow for the consolidation of a city's territory across multiple townships into a single township at the request of the voters.

Powers and Responsibilities

Illinois townships have specific powers outlined in 60 ILCS 1/85-13. These powers include expenditures on:

  • Public safety (law enforcement, fire protection, and building code enforcement).
  • Environmental protection (sewage disposal, sanitation, and pollution abatement).
  • Public transportation (transit systems, paratransit systems, streets, and roads).
  • Health services.
  • Recreation.
  • Libraries.
  • Social services for the impoverished and elderly.
  • Development and retention of business, industrial, manufacturing, and tourist facilities within the township.

Additional sections of 60 ILCS 1 authorize townships to provide various services, including cemeteries, comfort stations, community buildings, hospitals, monuments, open spaces, parks, facilities for the developmentally disabled, and the disposal of brush and leaves. With approval through a referendum, townships can also offer water and sewer services and general waste collection.

This article provides an insight into the unique township system of local governance in Illinois, shedding light on its history, organization, and powers. Townships remain an integral part of the state's administrative structure, ensuring efficient and localized governance for its residents.