Townships are the original form of local government in Minnesota, established as part of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which created the state of Minnesota. The township form of government, a carryover from Europe, served as a familiar building block to develop the state by dividing land areas into 36 square mile units known as congressional townships. Today, the term township generally refers to organized but unincorporated communities governed by a local board of supervisors and created to provide services to their residents. There are 1,790 townships across the state. The supervisors along with the township clerk and treasurer are elected positions.
The state’s townships hold their annual meetings on the second Tuesday of March. Some townships hold elections on the same day, while others have chosen to hold their elections in November with the General Election.
Of special interest this year for the town meetings is the new local government aid (LGA) program for townships that was enacted during the 2013 Minnesota Legislative Session. The first payments will be made beginning in 2014. The original LGA program enacted in 1971 provided aid to all local governments but over the years, the program became a city aid program only. The last LGA payment made to townships under the old program was in 2001.
The formula to be used to determine payments tends to provide more aid per capita to townships that have a large amount of land meeting the definition of “agricultural property” (“Agricultural property” includes homestead and non-homestead agricultural land, rural vacant land, and noncommercial seasonal recreational property, i.e., cabins, but it does not include managed forest land or tax-exempt natural resource land.). Townships with large amounts of other property such as residential, commercial, or forest property will get less aid per capita. The town aid is limited to organized townships; no aid is paid to counties for providing township services to unorganized townships in the state. The formula will distribute $10 million annually to organized townships in the state.
The annual meeting affords residents the opportunity to guide many of the activities that will occur within the township through votes to authorize certain actions, and ultimately by authorizing the tax levy to be set, which in turn controls the total amount of expenditures that can be made by the board of supervisors.
Tuesday, March 11, is Annual Town Meeting Day in Minnesota and it’s also an opportunity to participate in grassroots government.