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A civil and political subdivision of a state, which varies in size and significance according to location but is ordinarily a division of a county.

A town, which is a type of Municipal Corporation, can be formed by a state legislature when a large number of dwellings have concentrated in a particular location. A town is a creation of the state, designed and authorized to perform certain governmental functions on the local level. Its main purpose is to exercise the power of the state to promote greater prosperity, safety, convenience, health, and the common good of the general community.

The terms township and town are frequently used interchangeably in certain geographic locations, although in some parts of the United States the term township denotes a group of several towns.

Since towns can be formed only from contiguous territory, tracts of land that are entirely separate cannot be included in a town. Subject to constitutional restrictions, ordinarily, the state legislature has full power to create, enlarge, diminish, consolidate, and otherwise alter the boundaries of towns without the consent of those affected.


In general, towns have only the powers conferred upon them by the state legislature. However, the capacity of a town to acquire and hold real property has long been recognized under English Common Law. Towns are, therefore, generally given the power to construct their own public buildings and usually have the power to lease their property.

Towns are ordinarily granted the power to enact ordinances concerning local matters, provided the ordinances are reasonable and protect the General Welfare of the public to an appreciable degree. For example, a town might enact Zoning ordinances to restrict the use of land in certain designated areas to safeguard the public health and safety.

Ordinances enacted by a town are subject to Judicial Review, especially concerning their reasonableness.


Town meetings or boards are the primary vehicles by which a town governs itself since in many states a town exercises its powers by vote of a town meeting or a town council. Town meetings serve both legislative and executive functions; qualified residents meet to discuss and vote, if necessary, on matters dealing with their self-government. In most states, a person who pays town taxes is eligible to vote at the town meeting. State statutes regulate all kinds of town meetings as well as the business to be transacted and the conduct that is acceptable.

Boards or Councils

Town boards or councils are created by the legislative power of the state for the supervision of town affairs. All of their duties are either legislative or administrative in character. Their powers include selecting police officers and town attorneys, effecting public improvements, and providing for the audit and payment of claims against the town.

The selectmen of a town are officers elected by the towns to the boards to execute general business and to exercise various executive powers. Generally a board can function only when a majority of selectmen are present at a meeting. A selectman is ineligible to vote on propositions in which he or she has a financial interest in cases where his or her vote may be decisive. Town boards speak by their records, which are maintained by the town clerk in a record book. In general, other duties of the town clerk include the issuance of calls for town meetings and the performance of the general secretarial duties.


A town is permitted to raise revenue through taxation only if the state legislature has granted it the power to do so. Township boards or the electors at a town meeting can decide the amount of taxes needed for township purposes, or the normal operating expenses of the town, such as for maintenance of the highways. A small part of the tax may be set aside for miscellaneous or emergency expenses. In addition, a town may properly impose taxes for special purposes, such as the erection of a town hall. All property not legally exempt within the limits of a town or a township is subject to assessment and taxation by it.

Upon the levy of a town tax, inhabitants must pay the tax to the appropriate officer, ordinarily the town tax collector. Failure to do so, or failure to pay taxes on property correctly assessed, will entitle the town to a lien on the property, which means that the property cannot be sold until the taxes have been paid. After a number of years prescribed by statute, the town can have the taxpayer's property sold at a Tax Sale to pay the overdue taxes plus any accrued interests and costs. Any excess funds will be given to the taxpayer.

Taxpayer's Suit

Since every taxpayer of a town has a vital interest in, and a right to, the preservation of an orderly and lawful government, a number of statutes give the individual taxpayer the right to bring an action against officers, boards, or commissions of a town to recover money that has been wrongfully spent. This type of legal action is commonly known as a taxpayer's suit.


To protect their funds, towns or townships generally establish a regular and orderly procedure for the allowance and payment of claims against them, which must be followed before any claim will be satisfied. The courts may review the decision of boards permitting or disallowing claims against towns or townships.

Claims against the town may be settled or submitted to Arbitration at the direction of town supervisors or following a vote at a town meeting.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

TOWN. This word is used differently in different parts of the United States. In Pennsylvania and some other of the middle states, it signifies a village or a city. In some of the northeastern states it denotes a subdivision of a county, called in other places a township.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
Still, even after Marjorie's body turns up in the freezer and Bernie confesses to shooting her four times in the back, the townsfolk refuse to abandon their beloved Bernie.
Through the dark, crooked trees he searches for the 'ghost' and, 'scared to death' he opens Miss Annabel's door where the poor maligned soul weeps, then offers Herbert a scone confessing, 'All I want in the world is a friend.' With a broad grin Herbert offers just that--and when the enlightened townsfolk, with understanding welcome Miss Spoon into their lives, jubilation reigns.
As I said, I have problems with Tesco and companies like them, but as a councillor who fought an election to be able to speak for the townsfolk, I will defer to majority opinion.
Those townsfolk who still wanted the services of a physician had the option of pooling money together in order to bring in a physician once a week from a nearby town.
It is fed by the 1,100 tonnes of screened sewage excreted by its townsfolk annually, combined with wood chips as secondary fuel, which is burnt, producing up to 760kW of heat for the plant.
Soon townsfolk, music lovers and civic leaders all donated time, stuffing envelopes, licking stamps and carting bundles of mail to the post office.
AS a town councillor in Denbigh I have been approached by a number of townsfolk in recent days concerned about Denbighshire County Council's slow response to grit roads and pavements.
The town is going through a bad time: the farm animals have been falling ill, rats are rampant, the plague is starting to sweep through Europe, and the townsfolk have been afflicted with fits of madness.
Near the McGann farm in Dunbeg, townsfolk discuss the disappearance two years ago of the wife and toddler of wealthy Hugh Osborne.
Marson believes the image is starting to grow on townsfolk.
Cardiel and Omar both put on quite a show for the townsfolk of Aumsville, especially since neither of them had ever skated there before.
A local Christian minister who had connections on the inside pondered how to build understanding and reconciliation with the townsfolk. She decided to train a choir of detainees to take part in the town's annual Eisteddford.