Authorization for Interlocal Agreements and
Intergovernmental Cooperation in Michigan
This outline is designed to be a ready reference to the laws authorizing intergovernmental cooperation among local governments in Michigan. Intergovernmental cooperation also may be referred to as collaboration, joint public services, interlocal agreements, and mutual aid agreements. Local governments engage in cooperative acts in a multitude of forms: consultation, voluntary regional commissions and councils, joint service provision, joint purchasing, contracting to have services provided to their residents, special authorities, and special districts. Michigan local governments cooperate to provide services more efficiently and to avoid duplication, to provide services that individual governments cannot afford to provide on their own, to provide services or deal with problems that transcend the boundaries of individual units, and to minimize externalities.
The summaries that follow provide descriptions of 77 provisions in Michigan law that authorize two or more local units of government to work together. The detail provided varies greatly among the laws. Some provisions authorizing intergovernmental cooperation are single paragraphs contained in a law that provides for provision of a service. Other provisions are found in stand-alone laws enacted specifically to authorize cooperative ventures. The characteristics described herein for each law are common throughout, to the extent possible:
- Legal Citation – the name of the law, public act number, and Michigan Compiled Laws number.
A link to the law online at the Michigan Legislature website (www.legislature.mi.gov).
- Service or Function – the service or function authorized to be provided individually or jointly.
- Applicability – the types of governmental units authorized to utilize the law.
- Form of Cooperation – the form of cooperation authorized by the law.
- Implementation Method – the actions necessary to initiate or include a local governmental unit in a
- Governance – the provisions in the law for oversight of the service/function provision.
Financial Authority – the cost sharing, taxation authority, bonding authority, or other financial provisions of the law.
- Powers – the provisions in the law for the exercise of eminent domain or other powers inherent in government that are not universally granted to joint agencies.
Some facets of state law are common throughout these laws, whether explicitly stated or not.
Taxation. Provisions of the Headlee Amendment to the Michigan Constitution (Article IX, Section 31) state that taxes levied by local governments that were not authorized in 1978 must be submitted to the electors for their approval. This applies universally to all acts listed below that authorize taxes to provide a service, even when not specifically spelled out in the description.
Special Authorities and Special Districts. Special authorities and special districts are independent units of government. While governed by elected or appointed boards that vary in number, they universally are bodies corporate and politic with the ability to sue and be sued; powers to buy, sell, and dispose of property; and the authority to employ necessary personnel. Powers inherent in most types of government – the power to tax and the power of eminent domain – must be specifically provided for in their authorizing statutes to be enjoyed by these types of governmental units. While the power to tax generally is limited to only a few mills, it can be quite substantial. For instance, the act authorizing Emergency Service Authorities, Public Act 57 of 1988, authorizes the levy of a millage at a rate not to exceed 20 mills upon voter approval.
Three laws that authorize the State to create special districts for the provision of environmental services require special mention. The water control districts – water management districts, irrigation districts, and soil conservation districts – listed at the end of this report are not borne of intergovernmental cooperation. Land owners may petition the State for their creation. They do constitute independent governmental entities and their establishment affects the local governments they overlap because district representatives are granted roles in the governance provisions of some of the special authorities authorized through intergovernmental cooperation.
Disclaimer. Many of the laws mentioned in this outline are dated. It is possible that the provisions of the acts, and the reference herein, have been superseded by changes to municipal, bond, school finance laws, or others. For example, the law providing for consolidation of township libraries, Public Act 165 of 1927, provides for involvement by the county school commissioner although that office no longer exists. This outline simply reports what the laws say without attempting to adapt them to the 21st Century.
About the Laws that Authorize Intergovernmental Cooperation
Historically, each time two units of government in Michigan wanted to formally cooperate in a joint undertaking or contract for a service, they went to the legislature to get general legislation authorizing cooperative agreements for providing that specific service or function. That changed with enactment of Public Act 35 of 1951, which authorized any local government to cooperate with any other local government in the “ownership, operation or performance” of any “property, facility or service which each would have the power to own, operate or perform separately.” Thus, under the provisions of Act 35 any local governments could do jointly anything which each could do individually and it was no longer necessary to obtain specific state enabling legislation in those cases where all of the units involved had individually the power to perform the function. This broad authorization to cooperate was embedded in the constitution with adoption of the 1963 Michigan Constitution.
Specific enabling legislation is still necessary in those instances when one or more of the governmental units involved do not themselves have the power to perform a function. Since home rule cities, villages, and counties have broad home rule powers, they do not usually require such specific authorization. However, since counties, townships, school districts and special authorities/districts have only those powers specifically provided by law (and in the case of counties and townships those fairly implied), it is necessary to be able to point to statutory authorization for a particular kind of unit to perform the function before it can perform it on a cooperative basis. For this reason, many of the statutes listed below authorizing cooperation in specific functions are still necessary, even though Public Act 35 of 1951 and the Michigan Constitution provide broad authorization for cooperation. Also, many of these specific statutes are important because of their fiscal and other provisions.
The constitutional provisions establish a broad basis for intergovernmental cooperation agreements. The two major limitations placed on this broad grant of constitutional powers are these:
1. The legislature by general law is authorized to provide for such agreements and could, consequently, place limitations upon them.
2. Units do not have the power to perform jointly any function which they do not have the power to perform individually.
The 1963 Michigan Constitution authorizes state and local governments, or any combination thereof, to enter into cooperative arrangements for providing any services, owning any property, or operating any facilities that those governmental entities are authorized to provide, own, or operate separately. This authorization is found in three separate sections.
Article VII, Section 28
Authority for Local Government Cooperation
Article VII, Section 28 was a new section to the Michigan Constitution when it was added in 1963. The framers of the Constitution included this provision to encourage the solution of metropolitan problems through existing units of government rather than by creating a fourth layer of local government. Local governments would be allowed to join together in a variety of ways to work out together the solutions to their joint problems.
The legislature by general law shall authorize two or more counties, townships, cities, villages or districts, or any combination thereof among other things to: enter into contractual undertakings or agreements with one another or with the state or with any combination thereof for the joint administration of any of the functions or powers which each would have the power to perform separately; share the costs and responsibilities of functions and services with one another or with the state or with any combination thereof which each would have the power to perform separately; transfer functions or responsibilities to one another or any combination thereof upon the consent of each unit involved; cooperate with one another and with state government; lend their credit to one another or any combination thereof as provided by law in connection with any authorized publicly owned undertaking.
Any other provision of this constitution notwithstanding, an officer or employee of the state or any such unit of government or subdivision or agency thereof, except members of the legislature, may serve on or with any governmental body established for the purposes set forth in this section and shall not be required to relinquish his office or employment by reason of such service.
Section 28 provides the constitutional backing for the Urban Cooperation Act and the Intergovernmental Transfer of Functions and Responsibilities Act (Public Acts 7 and 8 of 1967, Extra Session), and many other laws that have been enacted to authorize interlocal agreements for governmental service delivery. As detailed below, Public Acts 7 and 8 of 1967 provide broad authorization for governments to jointly provide any function or service that they are authorized to provide individually. The provisions of Section 28 enable police and fire departments to create mutual aid agreements; individual units of government to contract with another to provide services, such as a township contract with a neighboring city for water and sewer provision; and two or more units to work together to provide services, such as a city and township creating a recreational authority to jointly serve the residents in both communities. Section 28 provides wide latitude for governmental units to cooperate and has been widely used for such purposes.
Article III, Section 5
Authority for Cooperation with Governments Outside of Michigan
Similarly, Article III, Section 5 was a new section to the Michigan Constitution when it was added in 1963. The framers of the Constitution envisioned a need for such provisions to deal with matters such as flood control, navigation, water conservation, protection of wildlife and game, and harbor development and regulation.
Subject to provisions of general law, this state or any political subdivision thereof, any governmental authority or any combination thereof may enter into agreements for the performance, financing or execution of their respective functions, with any one or more of the other states, the United States, the Dominion of Canada, or any political subdivision thereof unless otherwise provided in this constitution. Any other provision of this constitution notwithstanding, an officer or employee of the state or of any such unit of government or subdivision or agency thereof may serve on or with any governmental body established for the purposes set forth in this section and shall not be required to relinquish his office or employment by reason of such service.
The legislature may impose such restrictions, limitations or conditions on such service as it may deem appropriate. The authority provided by Section 5 is far narrower than is provided by Section 28 and there are far fewer examples to illustrate its usefulness. Section 5 allows communities along Michigan’s borders with Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin to cooperate with communities in those states. It also allows for cooperation with Canadian communities, most notably at the bridges between Detroit and Windsor, Port Huron and Sarnia, and the cities of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan and Ontario. It allows municipalities and the State to participate in cooperative bodies such as the Great Lakes Commission that deals with Great Lakes watershed issues.
Article VII, Section 27
Authority to Establish Multi-Purpose Special Authorities
This section revised in the 1963 Michigan Constitution provisions that had appeared in the earlier 1908 Constitution. These provisions recognize that many of the metropolitan problems confronting local government do not conform to municipal boundaries and may be best dealt with multipurpose regional bodies.
Notwithstanding any other provision of this constitution the legislature may establish in metropolitan areas additional forms of government or authorities with powers, duties and jurisdictions as the legislature shall provide. Wherever possible, such additional forms of government or authorities shall be designed to perform multipurpose functions rather than a single function.
Although the clear intent of Section 27 was to encourage the development of governmental units that could provide multiple services on a regional basis, there has been very little movement in that direction during the four decades since the adoption of the 1963 Constitution. The laws that currently provide for multipurpose forms of cooperation – principally the Metropolitan District Act (Public Act 312 of 1929), the County Public Improvement Act (Public Act 342 of 1939), and Joint Garbage and Rubbish Disposal (Public Act 179 of 1947) – were all drafted to be consistent with intergovernmental cooperation provisions in the earlier 1908 Michigan Constitution. Instead, the prevailing vehicles for delivering regional services have been single-purpose interlocal agreements and special authorities.