Township government, established in Providence, Rhode Island in 1636, is the oldest existing unit of government continuing to serve on the North American continent. Township government was in existence for 140 years prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The wording of the Declaration of Independence reflects the fact that 38 of its 56 signers had experienced the benefits of township government.
The Declaration's statement that "government should derive its just powers from the consent of the governed" is demonstrated at the Annual Town Meeting held on the second Tuesday of each April. The Annual Town Meeting is still an important function of our nation's 17,000 townships after more than 360 years. The Illinois Constitution of 1848 gave voters in each county the opportunity to adopt Township Government. By 1850, the first township governments began operation. Today, 85 of Illinois 102 counties operate under the township form of government and the 1,428 townships serve more than 8 million citizens
Functions of Illinois Townships
By law, Illinois townships are charged with three basic functions: 1) general assistance for the indigent; 2) the assessment of real property for the basis of local taxation; and 3) maintenance of all roads and bridges outside federal, state, and other local jurisdiction.
Road and Bridge Maintenance
Township Government maintains over 71,000 miles of roads in Illinois - a full 53 percent of all thoroughfares in the state.
Townships establish the value of all real property in the township. The township assessor, in fact, is the only elected governmental official who must pass approved courses of instruction before standing for election to office.
Townships provide food, shelter and emergency relief for needy people until they are able to support themselves. Many townships in Illinois operate food banks that guarantee the necessities of life for children.
Beyond the three mandated services, Township Government provides other vital services to the people next door. This may include senior citizens programs, youth programs, assistance to the disabled, parks and recreational facilities, health services and cemetery maintenance. In this regard, township government serves its neighbors from the cradle to the grave.