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The oldest form of government in the United States dating back to the 17th century, townships represent self-governance in its truest and purest form. The township board of supervisors is directly accessible to the people of the commonwealth with no layers of bureaucracy in between.
Townships are governed by a board of three or five supervisors elected at large by the voters for a six-year term. Three-quarters of Pennsylvania's township governing bodies have three members. Conversion to a five-member board requires the approval of the township's electorate.
Years ago, supervisors were mainly in charge of maintaining roads and bridges and plowing snow in the winter. Today, as the needs of township residents have grown, so has the role of township supervisor. From public safety to emergency services to environmental protection, these volunteer public servants assume an ever-greater role in providing services and facilities to respond to their citizens' needs and, especially, to meet the demands of a constantly increasing array of state and federal.
The board of supervisors serves as the township's legislative body, setting policy, enacting local ordinances, adopting budgets, and levying taxes. Because there is no separately elected executive, except in some home rule townships, the board also performs the executive functions, such as enforcing ordinances, approving expenditures, and hiring employees.