General. The references made to township in Article 6 of the Indiana Constitution (dealing with the administrative branch of government) are limited to unspecified township officers. The article does not specifically direct or provide for the creation of townships nor express the limits of township authority. Section 3, for example, provides that “township officers as may be necessary shall be elected or appointed in such a manner as prescribed by law.” There are 1008 townships in Indiana and their number in a given county varies considerably, from four in Blackford, Brown and Ohio to 21 in La Porte County. There is an even greater variance in population, ranging from 88 in Wabash Township of Gibson County to 208,624 in Center Township of Marion County (1980 U.S. Census).
In general, townships function in two major capacities: (1) as civil corporations for the administration of poor relief, assessment of taxable property and related functions, and (2) as school corporations for administration of elementary and secondary schools. Many townships lost their school functions when education systems were reorganized and greatly reduced in number throughout the state in the late 1960s.
The power to create or abolish townships, or alter their boundaries, is vested in the Board of County Commissioners, which may act upon petition of a majority of the freeholders in the townships affected. However, there have been few instances where such power has been exercised over the last 25 years.
The legislature has provided that where the federal government has taken over large areas of townships, leaving 18 square miles or less of taxable territory, the territory remaining may consolidate with an adjoining township upon a petition signed by 35 percent of the freeholders in the township wishing to merge and subsequent action by the county commissioners.
For planning and zoning purposes, a township may join a city which has an established plan commission and has adopted zoning and subdivision control ordinances if the township or any part of it is contiguous to (1) a city boundary, (2) an area over which a city is exercising planning and zoning authority, or (3) another township which has joined a city under the same provision.
Township Trustee. The trustee is the chief administrative officer of the township and must be a resident of that township.
The trustee is elected for a term of four years by vote of the entire township. The salary of the trustee is established by the Township Board (formerly called Township Advisory Board) but may not be fixed below the amount paid in 1980, prior to the legal minimums being repealed.
The trustee prepares the annual township budget for submission to the Township Board and has general control over all property belonging to the township. The trustee also serves as chief administrative officer for township schools and, in township having a population of less than 8,000, serves as township assessor.
Overseer of the Poor. Every township trustee is designated as “overseer of the poor,” a term that first appeared in the Elizabethan Poor Laws of 1572. Township trustees and poor relief existed in Indiana before the state was admitted to the union, township government having been established by the 1790 Acts of the Northwest Territory.
Whenever a claim for relief is made for the benefit of any persons of families claiming to be poor and in distress, it is the duty of the overseer of the poor to investigate carefully the circumstances of such poor persons and grant relief if the need is verified. Such poor relief includes food, shelter, clothing utility bills and school lunches.
The township trustee as overseer of the poor may employ and fix the salaries of investigators of poor relief claimants within prescribed limits. The trustee may designate the county school attendance officer as such an investigator; if the county commissioners approve, the attendance officer is required to serve.
In the event an indigent person is injured on a public highway, the trustee of the township in which the injury occurs has the responsibility of reporting such matte to the county welfare office so proper medical care may be provided. In poor relief activities the trustee must follow a law requiring uniform budgeting of all poor relief funds and the filing of such budgets with the county auditor. Township relief is “in kind” in that the recipient receives orders for groceries or services.
It is the duty of the overseer of the poor to provide for and superintend the burial of deceased indigent persons.
The trustee must, in cases of necessity, promptly provide medical and surgical attendance for the township poor who are not provided for in public institutions, and must also furnish medicines as are prescribed by the physician or surgeon in attendance. This responsibility specifically includes the provision of insulin for diabetes, and also authorization to provide special diets if prescribed.
Removal to County Home. The overseer of the poor shall, from time to time as persons may become permanent charges upon their respective townships as paupers, have such persons removed to the county home, subject to the approval of the Board of County Commissioners.
Work Required. If the persons applying for assistance are in good health, or if any members of their family are so, the overseer shall insist that those able to labor shall seek employment, and shall refuse to furnish any aid until satisfied that the persons claiming help are endeavoring to find work for themselves.
Responsible Relatives. If the persons applying for township aid have relatives able to assist them who are living in the township, it is the duty of the trustee, before giving aid a second time, to call on such relatives of the persons and ask them to help their relatives, either with material relief or by furnishing them with employment.
Cooperation with Private Agencies. It is the duty of each trustee to ascertain the existence in the township of societies for relief of the poor or other organizations for charitable purposes, if any; to become acquainted as far as possible with the work of all such relief organizations, and to cooperate with them.
Transportation. It is unlawful for the trustee to furnish any non-resident who may be sick, aged, injured or crippled with transportation at the cost of the township until after the overseer shall have ascertained beyond a reasonable doubt the legal residence of the person applying for such assistance.
Records of Relief. Every trustee and other official who administers relief from the public funds to indigent persons who are not inmates of any public institution must keep records of such relief. Because the office of township trustee is a public office, the law requires that the trustee’s records and books remain open for public inspection.
Conduct of Rehabilitation, Training, and Work Programs. For recipients of poor relief of the township, the township trustee, with the approval of the Township Board, may conduct rehabilitation, training, retraining and work programs. The cost of such programs are paid from poor relief funds.
Eradication of Weeds. The township trustee may require owners of real estate located “in a subdivision of any lots situated in his township, including lots in unincorporated towns, and outside the corporate limits of any city town,” to cut and remove weeks and other detrimental plants on that property. The order may be in the form of a five-day written notice served by certified mail. If the landowner fails to take the requested action, the township trustee may have the vegetation removed and charge the cost to the landowner, along with a $20 charge for supervision of the action. There is a legal penalty for non-compliance. Should the owner fail to pay the sum due within the prescribed time, the amount shall be added to the tax due on the affected property and collected as taxes are collected.
Dog Tax Fund. The township assessor is responsible for collecting the dog tax, and may retain up to $300. in a dog fund used primarily to pay damages if livestock, poultry, game animals or other creatures are wounded or damaged by dogs within the township. The owner of livestock, poultry or game that has been damaged files with the township trustee an affidavit, also signed by town freeholders, describing the damage sustained. The damage cannot exceed the actual cash value of stock, poultry or game. The trustee enters all losses in the order in which they are reported and authorizes the drawing of an order from the dog fund in the amount of the damage.
Also paid from the dog fund is the expense of treatment for rabies by any person bitten or exposed to a dog known to have rabies. Trustees may retain 50 cents from every dog tag sale for the cost of administration, and the County Council may by ordinance designate that the county Humane Society receive 50 cents from every dog tag sale to maintain an animal shelter.
If there is a surplus of more than $100 in the dog fund of the township at the close of the year, it must be paid into the county dog fund. If there is a surplus in the county dog fund, it is paid to the state auditor for the state dog fund. All funds in excess of $50,000 remaining in the state dog fund at the end of each year must be distributed by the auditor of the state. After a specified portion of the excess is allotted to Purdue University for canine disease research, the remainder is distributed to the general fund of each county in proportion to the total amount paid into the dog account by the county.
Conversely, if any dog fund is exhausted, the state auditor pays a sufficient amount over to the county auditor to pay outstanding claims.
Power of Trustees. In those school districts still administered to by township trustees (29 in 11 counties), the trustee is vested with almost complete powers in all school matters. These powers are subject, of course, to supervision and review by certain state agencies and to certain review b the Township Board. In counties adopting the county unit plan of school administration or in which township school corporations are otherwise reorganized under the jurisdiction of school boards, the trustees individually cease to administer the schools of their townships. Under one of the optional county unit plans, however, all trustees of the county acting as a county board of education administer the affairs of the township schools at the county level.
Administration of township schools in townships having a populations of not less than 3,500 may be placed by the township trustee under the direction of a school corporation and a board of school trustees established for that purpose. The trustee continues to serve as a member of the school board of such corporation by virtue of office. Other board members are elected at a general election.
The duties of the township trustee, as school administrator, are:
- To employ teachers with the approval of the county superintendent of schools.
- To establish and locate conveniently a sufficient number of schools for the education of the township children.
- To provide suitable school buses, transportation, furniture, apparatus and other articles and educational appliances necessary for efficient management of schools.
Trustees of town or more townships may initiate a plan, with approval of the Commission on General Education of the Indiana State Board of Education, for forming a metropolitan or consolidated school district.
Special school funds may be used to purchase fire-fighting apparatus to be used outside the city and town limits.
School townships are civil townships are authorized to issue bonds to finance the completion of school buildings or additions under construction.
Other Duties of Trustees
Other functions of the township trustee include the following:
- To keep a true record of official proceedings of the township office.
- To receive and disburse all monies belonging to the township.
- To have the care and management of all property, real and personal, belonging to the township, with authority to bind the township within the limitations of the trustee’s function. This includes the authority to enter into leases with private concerns for the mining of oil and has on township property.
- To care for abandoned cemeteries.
- To administer oaths where necessary in the discharge of duties of office.
- To serve property owners with ditch cleaning notices on behalf of the county surveyor.
- To build line fences where the affected property owners fail to agree to do so.
- To serve as a notary public (but may not charge for such service).
Reports. The trustee must examine and settle all accounts and demands chargeable against the township, and must keep an accurate and current account showing amounts received into and paid out of each fund, and to whom paid, as well as the whole receipts and expenditures by one general account.
The trustee shall file all accounts as vouchers and report the same to the Township Board in the annual settlement. The law provides that the township trustee must have the annual report published within four weeks from the time it’s filed.
The county treasurer, immediately after this annual settlement with the county auditor, must, on the warrant of such auditor, pay over to the proper township trustee all funds belonging to each township.
The records and other books of the township trustee must always be open for public inspection.
May Appoint Attorney. The trustee may appoint an attorney to defend any suit or proceeding in which the township may be interested.
Summer Recreation Program. The township trustee has the authority, either independently or in cooperation with a school board, school corporation, city, town or other governmental unit, to establish and sponsor summer recreation programs, the cost to be paid from civil township funds.
Community Services. Within funding capabilities, the township trustee has wide authority to establish or maintain a variety of community services. These include, but are not limited to, parks and programs for the elderly.
Fire Protection. The trustee, with the consent of the Township Board, may purchase firefighting equipment and employ firemen, or may join with the trustee of one or more adjoining townships in providing joint fire protection. The trustee may contract with cities, towns or volunteer firefighting companies to supply fire protection, ambulance service and paramedic programs.
Trustee as Township Assessor. In addition to the duties outlines previously, the township trustee serves as township assessor in townships with up to 8,000 population. (Townships of 5,000 to 8,000 population may choose to elect an assessor.) Deputies may be employed by the trustee to assist in the assessing duties.