Parenthetical numbers in the text refer to sections of the current Revised Statutes of Missouri, abbreviated as RSMo.

I. Background


Township organization is an option open to third- and fourth class-counties in Missouri (65.010). Townships have been chosen by 22 counties (see map). Cass County had to give up the township form when it became a second-class county years ago. Wright County voted out the option in 2001.

Functions have changed

In earlier years, townships had somewhat broader functions, including law enforcement through an elected constable and judicial through a justice of the peace. Until recently, tax assessment was one of the township clerk's duties, but tax collection by townships ended in March 2007, as specified by the Missouri legislature in 2005.

While some functions have disappeared, new ones have been added by some townships. The option for township planning and zoning was authorized by the legislature in 1989. Some townships have formed fire protection districts with identical boundaries. All organized townships are responsible for township roads and their maintenance. Some are also responsible for bridges (see Chapter XVI. Roads and Rules).

Township choice

Choice of the township option appears to go back to the original settlement of particular counties, and the geographic patterns they followed. Settlers in Missouri arrived by two main paths. Some came from Virginia through Tennessee, Kentucky and southern Illinois. These settlers organized with the county as the basic unit of local government. Others came from Pennsylvania through Ohio and Indiana — all states with townships as the basic unit of government. These counties adopted the township organization option.

Abolition of townships

Many township counties have proposed abolishing townships, some many times (65.610-.620). Only two have ever succeeded when the decision was put to a vote. Daviess County voted to abolish townships and then reversed the decision shortly after it was passed. Wright County eliminated the township option in 2001. When abolition of townships has been proposed, election results seem to show that voters are largely happy with the township style of local organization (see Section VIII. Abolishing Townships).