The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines civics as "the study of the rights and duties of citizens and of how government works." The definition from dictionary.com is "the study or science of the privileges and obligations of citizens." -- From the Wikipedia article on Civics.
Town vs Township (in Wisconsin)
We are the Town of Lodi and we are located in the township identified by the PLSS coordinates: T10N, R8E.
In Wisconsin, there is a distinct difference in meaning between the words town and township. Often, but not always, there is a corresponding relationship between the two terms, whereby the entire township is governed by the town and that town governs only the land inside that township. This case does not apply to the Town of Lodi.
A town in Wisconsin is a unit of local government. A township is the term that a land surveyor uses for each of the cells in the survey grid framework mapped onto the land. The rows and columns of this grid framework assign a unique coordinate label to every cell (township) so that it can be used as the starting point for legal descriptions of land. Except for a few areas, the township grid system is used to legally describe land throughout the entire state (including the land inside of cities and villages).
A Public Land Survey was done in Wisconsin by land surveyors on the ground starting in 1833 and ending in 1856. The state was mapped and divided into a grid system of squares with a line every six miles, adjusting along the way for the unavoidable consequences of translating a spherical Earth onto a square grid. Each grid cell is a township and ideally it represents approximately 36 square miles. This grid system is known as the Public Land Survey System (PLSS).
Most towns and most townships are roughly the same six mile by six mile square in area (36 square miles) or else, often started out that way. But a county may have its boundary set by a river, Lake Michigan, Lake Superior or other similar feature that doesn't conform to any grid system. Since the town is a subset of government within its county, if the county boundary follows the center of a river, then the town's boundary must naturally conform. And any population areas that incorporate as a village or city become their own municipality and so that corresponding land is removed from the town's jurisdiction.
The area and boundaries of a township (the grid system) are rigidly fixed and are really only further refined in accuracy with better measuring technology.
The area and boundaries of most towns are (and always were) already at their maximum possible extent barring an agreement with an abutting town to move a mutual boundary line.
Town Land Area Shrinks as Villages & Cities Grow
Under almost all circumstances, a town has no option to grow in land area. On the other hand, the villages and cities within the township can continue to grow. They grow through the process of annexation, which is the transfer of land (along with how that land is governed) away from the town and to the municipality. Therefore the general rule is that towns tend to decrease in area, and villages and cities tend to increase in area. As villages and cities continue to grow they correspondingly erode away the land area still governed by the town. In more extreme cases, towns may be left with pockets of territory that are no longer contiguous or a territory map more akin to Swiss cheese. Continued municipal growth could and does eventually result in complete dissolution of the town government if it is absorbed into one or more villages or cities.
The Wisconsin Towns Association reports that 95% of Wisconsin's land area is currently governed by a town, but that only about 30% of the state's population lives in those areas. Meaning that the remaining 70% of Wisconsin residents live in a village or city municipality.
Many towns, but far from all, have roughly the dimensions of a standard 36-square mile township. The Town of Lodi is smaller in area than the standard square township for three reasons:
- The Town of Lodi only has 30 sections: the standard six sections tall from north to south, but only five sections wide from west to east. (The six sections in the westernmost column of township T10N, R8E are governed by the Town of West Point.)
- Significant portions of three of its sections (4, 5 & 8) were permanently flooded as part of creating Lake Wisconsin.
- The City of Lodi is an independent municipality, so its area is not part of the Town of Lodi. (Okee and Harmony Grove are not independent municipalities because neither is incorporated as a village or city. So they remain a part of the Town.)
Legal Basis, Duties & Powers
Towns are created by the Wisconsin Constitution to provide basic municipal government services such as elections, property tax administration (towns collect taxes for counties, schools and other governments, as well as for their own budgets), road construction and maintenance, recycling, emergency medical services and fire protection. Some towns also offer law enforcement, solid waste collection, zoning and other services.
The major duties and powers of all towns are spelled out in Article IV, Section 23 of the Wisconsin Constitution, Chapter 60 of the Wisconsin Statutes (which pertains specifically to town governments) and Chapter 66 of the Wisconsin Statutes (which applies to towns, villages and cities).
All towns must: operate local polling places for elections; conduct property tax assessment, dispute procedures, billing and collection; ensure fire protection and ambulance service; ensure that there is a recycling program; and maintain town highways. Many towns also choose to provide additional services at the local level such as garbage collection, land use regulation, law enforcement, etc.
Towns are the only form of government in Wisconsin, as well as most of the world, where citizens have the ability to self-govern to the degree of directly voting for their own property tax rate, budget, and more. In some respects, towns operate like cities and villages, but in other ways they are quite different. They are similar in the sense that they provide many of the same services as cities and villages, but they are organized and governed in a different manner. The major distinguishing feature of towns is the fact that they continue to operate as a "direct democracy." State law requires towns to hold a town meeting at least annually where all qualified electors who are age 18 or older and have lived in the town for at least ten days can discuss and vote on town matters, including the town's property tax levy. This means that the electors of the town have more direct control over their most local government issues than their counterparts in cities and villages (where major decisions are made by elected representatives). Towns also tend to dove-tail their services with counties to a greater extent than cities and villages.
A town is governed by its Town Board comprised of a chairperson and in most cases between 2-4 supervisors. Towns must have either an elected or appointed clerk and treasurer or a combined office of clerk-treasurer and may choose to also retain a deputy clerk, deputy treasurer or deputy clerk-treasurer. Some towns also choose to have additional elected officers such as a constable or elected property tax assessor. The day-to-day administrative issues of each town are handled by an elected town board, consisting of three or five members. Town board members are elected for two-year terms in spring elections. Towns are also served by a clerk and treasurer (or combined clerk-treasurer) and can have an appointed town administrator.