What Townships Do
State law authorizes Ohio townships to operate under a basic form of government and perform a wide variety of functions. There are 1,308 townships in Ohio and they are varied in population size, annual operating budget, and range of services delivered to residents.
Ohio townships most commonly provide residents with services such as road maintenance, cemetery management, police and fire protection, emergency medical services, solid waste disposal, and zoning. Ohio townships have direct responsibility for maintaining 41,000 miles of roads and streets, and townships manage more than 2,400 cemeteries.
The maintenance and repair of township roads is the largest function of most of Ohio’s townships today, and includes such activities as snow removal and weed control. Ohio townships receive part of the state’s motor vehicle license fees and gasoline tax, as well as generating additional revenues through local taxation to fund road maintenance.
A board of township trustees has the authority to employ local police officers and create police districts, or to contract with neighboring jurisdictions for police protection. Today, Ohio township police have, in general, the same authority and power that the law grants to the sheriff, and are required to receive basic training in the duties of a police officer.
Fire Protection/Emergency Management System (EMS)
Ohio law permits townships to provide fire protection directly or by contract with townships, municipalities and other jurisdictions. Township fire departments are staffed with full-time and/or volunteer firefighters, or a combination of both.
Parks and Recreation
Townships may establish and operate a park on their own or by joint action with another political subdivision. Townships may purchase land and material and may use township funds to acquire or improve a park. A township park district may also be established in a township. The park district is a separate political subdivision and has its own board with taxing authority.
Zoning is the regulation of the use of land and buildings that permit a community to control development. It provides for orderly growth by protecting homes and property from harmful use on neighboring properties. Ohio law provides for the submission of a zoning plan to electors of a township and includes provisions for the adoption, administration, enforcement and amendment of the zoning plan.
Due to the tremendous increase in population, government units across Ohio face a waste disposal problem. Townships are authorized to provide waste disposal services to residents. It may collect and dispose of garbage or contract with other political subdivisions or private providers for such services.
Voters must approve the purchase or appropriation of land for a cemetery, but once it is established, township trustees have the authority to sell plots, set up service fees, maintain the cemetery, and provide for expansion.
Other Township Functions
Township trustees also have responsibilities for ditches, drains and other surface waters; line fences between adjacent properties; township hospitals or township hospital districts; and the control of weeds and brush. Trustees also have permissive authority to erect monuments to commemorate those who died in the service of their country, and a board of township trustees may provide artificial lighting when it is determined that public safety requires such lighting. The township may install its own lighting system or contract with an electric company.
Townships receive revenue from local property taxes and from the gasoline and motor vehicle license taxes, as well as the local government fund from the state. Increases in property taxes must be approved by voters. Townships collect less than 6 percent of local property taxes in Ohio.
Ohio Home Rule
Townships possess only those powers expressly delegated to them by statute, or those which are reasonably implied from those delegated, which include the powers previously mentioned here. In general, townships do not possess broad police powers or the ability to provide for public health.
An exception to this general rule is found in Chapter 504 of the Ohio Revised Code, which permits certain townships with at least 3,500 residents in an unincorporated area to adopt a limited home-rule government. If adopted, limited home-rule townships may exercise “all powers of self-government,” subject to certain exceptions. Such authority is limited to the unincorporated areas of the township and resolutions of the township may only be enforced by civil fines up to $1,000.