What's the difference between cities, towns and villages?

There are no significant differences of legal powers or status, but there is a difference in their creation and governing bodies.

By Kirby Wagner

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As you drive through Illinois, you may recognize similar signage as you approach the limits of each inhabited area – “The Town of,” “The City of,” and “The Village of.”

The constitution of 1870 eliminated legislative ability to create new towns. Instead, the legislature passed a general law concerning the creation and powers of municipalities. When a developing area desired to incorporate, it looked to the Illinois Municipal Code for the rules to follow.

This practice continues today under the constitution of 1970. This means that any new municipality would be a city or a village, i.e., no more towns would be created. Towns, however, were not required to drop their “incorporated town” designation and incorporate as a city or a village.

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The 1,299 municipal governments in Illinois are made up of cities, villages and towns. There are no significant differences of legal powers or status, but there is a difference in their creation and governing bodies.

Rules for incorporation of a city and a village are different. The requirements to incorporate as a village vary with population of the county as well as other criteria. The minimum population requirement for incorporation as a city is 2,500 residents.

In villages, the trustees are the governing body. Normally village boards are served by six trustees but, can be reduced to four trustees following a referendum in favor of the change. City governments are run by alderman. The number of aldermen that represent a city is dependent on population.

Illinois statutes also offer more complex variations that may be adopted by cities or villages needing a more specific makeup. These variations are the commission form, the manager form, the administrator form, the special charter form and the strong mayor form. Each form provides its own guidelines for the selection of officers, their powers and duties and the general function of government.

Kirby Wagner serves as Illinois Farm Bureau’s assistant director of transportation and local governmental affairs. This article is an excerpt from his LINK story. Click here to read the most recent edition.

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