Administrative divisions of Massachusetts

Administrative divisions of Massachusetts

Administrative divisions of Massachusetts have a distinct local government organization from much of the United States. As a New England state, Massachusetts shares with the other five New England states, plus New York and New Jersey, a governmental structure known as the "New England town."

The city/town distinction

Massachusetts law maintains a statutory distinction between "cities" and "towns". The most significant difference between a town and a city is that a town is governed under Town meeting or Representative town meeting forms of government, whereas a city has a council as its legislative body (and may or may not have a mayor, a city manager, or both). This distinction dates to 1822 when the legislature granted Boston a city form of government. Prior to that, all municipalities were governed by Town Meeting and Selectmen. There are eleven municipalities which are legally cities (not having a town meeting form of government) and thus have a council form of government, but retained the word "town" in their names. They are: [ [ Massachusetts City and Town Incorporation and Settlement Dates] Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts] :Agawam, Amesbury, Barnstable, Easthampton, Franklin, Greenfield, Methuen, Southbridge, Watertown, West Springfield, Weymouth.In legislation, these particular cities are often styled "the City known as the Town of X". A 1960s amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution created a home rule charter mechanism; in order to exercise jurisdiction beyond the bounds of the home rule charter process, a municipality must petition the General Court for special legislation giving it that authority.

All Massachusetts municipalities are subject to a budgetary law known as "Proposition 2½", by which they may not increase expenditures by more than 2½% per annum without the approval of the voters in the municipality.

The incorporation of land

In many states, a town is a compact incorporated area. Between the towns are unincorporated areas, usually quite large, which do not belong to any town. In contrast, the state is completely apportioned into counties. County governments have significant importance, particularly to those living outside towns, and often perform major functions such as operating airports.

In contrast, in Massachusetts, all of the state is divided up by, and within the bounds of the state's 351 municipalities. There are no "unincorporated" areas or population centers. (This is generally true of most of the New England states, and is described at length at New England town.) This complicates comparisons with other states, as most Massachusetts residents identify strongly with the municipality in which they reside, and less so with the "populated places" as defined and used in the U.S. Census Bureau, which in most data products considers towns to be minor civil divisions, equivalent to townships in other states (usually with much weaker forms of government). However, many residents also identify with neighborhoods, villages, or other districts of their towns.

The growing abolition of county governments

By the 1990s, most functions of county governments (including operation of courts and road maintenance) had been taken over by the state, and most county governments were seen as inefficient and outmoded. The government of Suffolk County was substantially integrated with the city government of Boston more than one hundred years ago, to the extent that the members of the Boston city council are "ex officio" the Suffolk County Commissioners, and Boston's treasurer and auditor fulfill the same offices for the county. Thus, residents of the other three Suffolk County communities do not have a voice on the county commission, but all the county expenses are paid by the city of Boston.

The government of Nantucket County, which is geographically coterminous with the Town of Nantucket, is operated along similar lines: the town selectmen (executive branch) act as the county commissioners.

Mismanagement of Middlesex County's public hospital in the mid 1990s left that county on the brink of insolvency, and in 1997 the legislature stepped in by assuming all assets and obligations of the county. The government of Middlesex County was officially abolished on July 11, 1997. Later that year, the Franklin County Commission voted itself out of existence. The law abolishing Middlesex County government also provided for the elimination of Hampden County and Worcester County governments on July 1, 1998. This law was later amended to abolish the governments of Hampshire County on January 1, 1999; Essex County on July 1, 1999; and Berkshire County on July 1, 2000. Chapter 34B of the Massachusetts General Laws provides that other counties may also vote to abolish themselves, or to reorganize as a "regional council of governments", as Hampshire and Franklin Counties have done. [ [ Chapter 34B of the Massachusetts General Laws] ] The governments of Bristol, Plymouth, and Norfolk Counties remain substantially unchanged. Barnstable and Dukes Counties have adopted modern county charters, enabling them to act as efficient regional governments.

ee also

*List of Massachusetts counties
*List of municipalities in Massachusetts
*New England town
*Political divisions of the United States


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