Township government is one of the oldest forms of government in Illinois. While the viability of the continued role of township government has been questioned recently, those who work with townships and receive services from them have no doubt about their importance. Townships perform three mandatory functions: administering a general assistance program to qualifying residents, maintaining township road district highways and bridges, and appraising property values in all counties other than Cook County. Townships also are given a variety of statutory responsibilities which are somewhat lesser known, but equally important. For example, they may, among other services, provide senior services and conduct youth programs.
Townships have been given various powers which they may exercise depending upon the needs of their constituents and the activism of their officials. Each township has the corporate capacity to exercise the powers expressly granted to it, for those necessary implied from these express grants, and no others. 60 ILCS 1/85-10. See also Grassini v. DuPage Tp., 279 Ill. App. 3d 614, 665 N.E.2d 860 (3d Dist. 1996) (holding that a township may exercise only those powers conferred upon it by statute). This limitation is called the “Dillon’s Rule” and affects all Illinois governments except home rule municipalities and counties. Like other non-home rule units, townships have no inherent powers, but only those granted to them by the constitution or authorized by statute. Diversified Computer Services, Inc. v. Town of York, 104 Ill. App. 3d 852, 433 N.E.2d 726 (2d Dist. 1982). Prior to engaging in any act, therefore, a township must make sure that it possesses the authority to engage in such an act. Townships are conferred their powers through the Illinois Township Code (60 ILCS 1/1 et. seq.), the 1970 Illinois Constitution and through various other statutory and common laws. Special statutory sections govern the powers and the functions of township officers.
Townships exercise their various powers through either the corporate authorities of the township (the electors) or the township board.
- A township may sue and be sued.
- A township may purchase any real estate or personal property for public purposes using installment contracts providing for payment over a period of not more than 20 years for real estate and not more than 10 years for personal property.
- A township may construct a town hall under an installment contract providing for payment over a period of not more than 20 years.
- A township may make all contracts necessary in the exercise of township powers. A township may expend or contract for the expenditure of any federal funds it is given for any purpose for which a township can expend tax revenues.
- A township may acquire land or any interest in land located within its township limits. It may acquire the land or interest by gift, purchase, or otherwise, but not by condemnation, except in special instances when townships are expressly given the power of condemnation, such as to acquire parks, open space, or cemeteries.
- A township may also acquire (by purchase, gift or legacy) and hold personal property, and may sell and convey that property.
- A township may improve land for industrial or commercial purposes and may donate and convey improved land or interest in land to the Illinois Finance Authority.
- A township may receive funds under the federal Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 and may expend or contract for the expenditure of those funds and other township funds for certain specified activities.
- A township may establish reasonable fees for recreation and instructional programs sponsored by the township.
- A township may borrow money (i) from any bank or financial institution if the money is to be repaid within 10 years from the time it is borrowed, or (ii) with the approval of the highway commissioner, from a township road district fund, if the money is to be repaid within one year from the time it is borrowed.
- A township may administer a recycling program and adopt rules for recycling programs in unincorporated areas.