How Cities Differ from Towns / Townships

The Legislature describes township government as the form of local government that most efficiently provides governmental services in areas used or developed for agricultural, open space, and rural residential purposes.

People often incorrectly use the term "town" to describe a small city. In the strictest sense, a town is the governmental or political organization, while a township refers to the geographical congressional territory without connection to the governmental organization. For the most part, Minnesota laws, particularly state statutes, use the terms interchangeably.

Historically, most towns have had limited governmental powers and, as a result, were unable to provide a wide range of services to their citizens.

Over the past two decades, the Legislature has greatly expanded the authority of towns to provide general governmental services. To accommodate growing towns in need of more services, the Legislature has created a class of towns called “urban towns.”

Urban towns are towns that have platted portions where 1,000 or more people reside, or which meet other statutory criteria. These towns have many of the same powers statutory cities have under the statutory city code. The Legislature has also created several urban towns through special laws that define their powers.

Among the few powers that urban towns may not exercise are the following: annexing abutting land; owning or operating gas, heat, light or power systems; establishing a municipal liquor store; and, establishing a civil-service system. Urban towns may join the League of Minnesota Cities and receive the full range of League services.

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