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The Duties of Township Trustees

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A township trustee is an elected official whose duties are determined by state law. Those duties may range from general administration to specific obligations, such as rebuilding fences or maintaining cemeteries. Twenty U.S. states, including Ohio, Indiana and New Jersey, use a township form of local government, though some states just call them towns.

Qualifying as a Trustee

Each state sets its own rules for who can serve as a trustee. In Michigan, for example, a trustee must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and a resident of the township for a minimum of 30 days. Landing the township trustee's job requires running in an election. That requires filing all candidate paperwork on time and providing information about campaign financing.

Michigan has from two to four trustees on each township board, depending on the township's size. Other states have different rules. Ohio, for example, has three trustees on each board. A board may have other positions, such as a clerk or a treasurer.

What Trustees Do

Many trustee duties are similar to those of city council members in other local governments. They include adopting a budget, setting health and safety ordinances, and overseeing programs and services. Ohio charges its townships with maintaining roads, the largest function of most townships. Ohio trustees can also set up parks in their jurisdiction, establish police services and run the township cemetery. The trustees make these decisions as a board, rather than as individuals.

In Indiana each township has one trustee. Each functions as the executive, with the township board as a local legislative branch. State law assigns the trustee a number of specific duties:

  • Overseeing relief for the poor within the township's jurisdiction.
  • Maintaining partition fences marking the border between the township and neighboring property.
  • Maintaining abandoned cemeteries.
  • Levying a tax for parks and recreation.
  • Serving as a notary public at no fee.
  • Maintaining financial records and submitting the accounts to the board for approval.

Township Trustee Responsibilities

As public officials, trustees must also follow state law in carrying out their duties. Ohio, for example, sets standards for responsible trustees:

  • They vote in the interests of their community.
  • They attend township board meetings.
  • They follow state laws on open meetings and public records.
  • They know the township's tax structure, its hiring and firing policies, and zoning and other rules.
  • They know the state laws and standards that the township has to follow. 

A Durham, NC resident, Fraser has written about law, starting a business, balancing your budget and fighting evictions, among other legal and financial topics.

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