(redirected from townspeople)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


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 ?
Greenstone and its townspeople share a heartbeat that has been thrown off-cadence by a sense of hopelessness.
'The Townspeople' exhibition is free to enter and runs during all Charnwood Museum opening times.
"We also wish to recognise the fantastic response of the townspeople in the face of adversity and the tireless work of the emergency, professional and voluntary services at the time.
In the clip, Eve speculates that the Re-enactment Festival is just something that the townspeople came up with based on the love-hate relationship between the brothers.
The local police chief praised the help of the internet as well as the warm local community, saying that in less than 36 hours, Chan not only got great help from sympathetic townspeople but also went home safely.
The town's only profitable source of income is by way of the local sanitarium, known as "The Cookie Jar,'' whose inmates look in better shape than the disgruntled, impoverished townspeople.
Enter in role as the Mayor and ask the townspeople if they have ever seen the giant.
This is the third supportive housing property acquired, rehabbed and operated by Townspeople, bringing its inventory to 66 units located in District 3, the poorest of all San Diego City Districts.
Find out what is happening where 4 Irvine Bay Breathing new life into Ardrossan, Saltcoats, Stevenston, Kilwinning and Irvine will make this part of Ayrshire the toast of the coast 5 East Renfrewshire Two-pronged plan gives homebuyers, shoppers and leisure seekers a choice between town centre or edge of town 6 Riverside Inverclyde Ambitious plan to redevelop historic James Watt Dock is the flagship project of major 10-year, pounds 400million waterfront scheme 8 East Ayrshire How the bad news of a whisky plant closure caused the townspeople of Kilmarnock to pull together and come up with a plan 10 West Dumbartonshire Making the most of an eight-mile stretch of Clyde Waterfront and the beautiful Loch Lomondside is bringing jobs to the area
Yes, the bingo stall, where townspeople and visitors crowded in out of the downpour.
New in town and up to no good, Wisdom Kid offers quick and easy advice by manipulating traditional Jewish stories--and logic itself--to trick the townspeople out of their money and their possessions.