Townships were the “first form of local government” in Ohio and were plotted according to a basic policy for the survey and sale of public lands. With the formation of the Ohio Territory under the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, six-mile township squares were used as the primary means of establishing local civil governments in the territory. Since the adoption of the 1851 Ohio Constitution, the basic form of township government has remained relatively unchanged. Governed by three elected Trustees serving four-year terms, this Board of Township Trustees is the legislative authority and also fulfills many executive responsibilities as well.
A fourth elected official, Township Fiscal Officer (formerly known as Clerk), is independent of the Trustees yet by law must work closely with the Trustees. The Township Fiscal Officer’s duties include the recording of township proceedings and keeping records of township fiscal accounts.
There are over 1,300 townships in Ohio today. While they all operate under the basic form of township government, they are quite varied in the size of population, annual operating budget, and range of services delivered to township residents. Townships most commonly provide residents with services such as road maintenance, cemetery management, police protection, fire protection, emergency medical services (EMS), solid waste disposal, and zoning. For example, Ohio townships have direct responsibility for maintaining approximately 41,000 miles of roads and streets, and townships manage over 1,800 township 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 police constables, to create police districts, or to contract with neighboring jurisdictions for police protection. Ohio township police officers or constables are required to receive basic training in the duties of a police officer.
Township fire departments are staffed with full-time or volunteer firefighters or a combination of both. Ohio law permits townships and municipalities to contract with each other for mutual fire protection/EMS.
Townships manage over 1,800 township cemeteries. The Township Trustees have the authority to sell plots, set fees for services, maintain the cemetery, and provide for expansion. Private cemeteries owned by religious or cemetery associations may be transferred to the township.