“Towns are created by the Wisconsin Constitution to provide basic municipal government services, such as elections, property tax administration (towns collect taxes for counties, schools and other governments, as well as for their own budgets), road construction and maintenance, recycling, emergency medical services and fire protection. Some towns also offer law enforcement, solid waste collection, zoning and other services.” –Town Quick Facts
Town government is created by Article IV, Section 23 of the Wisconsin Constitution. Chapter 60 of the state statutes applies specifically to towns. Unlike the organization of cities and villages, town are unincorporated and can only implement those functions specifically authorized by state law. Cities and villages have home rule power and have greater flexibility to govern themselves. Towns may adopt village powers, relating to villages and conferred on village boards under Chapter 61, except those powers which conflict with statutes relating to towns and town boards.
The state’s 1250 towns provide fundamental services to about 95% of Wisconsin’s geography and 30% of its population. All towns administer elections; conduct property tax assessment, dispute procedures, billing and collection; ensure fire protection and ambulance service; provide for a recycling program; and maintain town roads. Many towns also choose to provide additional services, such as, garbage collection, land use management, economic development, law enforcement, etc.
Towns are a general purpose unit of government, providing a broad array of services. Juxtaposed is a special purpose unit of government that provides a single type of service, such as, a school district that provides for education within their boundaries. Day to day provision of town services is governed by an elected town board, comprised of a town chairperson and two to four supervisors. The board is supported by an elected or appointed clerk and treasurer or combined office of clerk-treasurer. Some towns also choose to have additional elected officers, such as a constable or elected property tax assessor. Some also appoint an administrator, deputy clerk, deputy treasurer, or deputy clerk-treasurer. In a political environment in which decision making is becoming more remote and being thrust upon citizens by far away lawmakers and bureaucrats, it is refreshing to know that grassroots local leadership remains strong in town government throughout Wisconsin.
Get more information on towns from the Wisconsin Towns Association.
The Local Government Center offers many programs in conjunction with the Wisconsin Towns Association. In odd-numbered years, after the spring elections, Town Officials Workshops designed as orientation and continuing education for town officials are held at sites throughout the state. Recurring programs on our teleconference yearly rotation include “How to Run the Annual Town Meeting” and other programs of interest to town officials. Fall Town and Village Workshops, which offer content on levy limits and budgets, are offered every fall.