Vermonts 237 organized towns and 9 cities, as well as its incorporated villages, are "creatures of the State" under the terms of the Vermont Constitution. Because Vermont is not a "home rule" state, a municipality can do only those things that the Legislature allows. The Legislature has enacted laws enabling or mandating municipalities to undertake certain responsibilities through statutes — mostly in Titles 24, 32 and 19, but also scattered throughout all Titles of the Vermont statutes.
Generally, towns have the power and responsibility to build and maintain highways and bridges, tax property, control animals, license junkyards, provide for solid waste disposal, keep land and vital records, and regulate some health and sanitation areas.
Additionally, if at town meeting the voters so decide, a town may provide services such as police protection, fire protection, ambulance service, water, sewer, electricity, cemeteries, planning and zoning, building and housing codes, recreation, parks, forests and libraries.
Cities, as well as 22 towns and some other municipalities, all have charters that specifically grant them powers in addition to those in general statute.
Villages are usually built-up areas wholly within towns with powers similar to towns. Villages often provide some "urban" services within their small areas that the town is not willing to provide (e.g., water, sewer, police or street lighting).
In addition to towns, cities and villages, there are several other municipal corporations, including solid waste, school and fire districts. Each is a government separate from the town. A fire district may be created to provide services, similar to those of a village, to a limited area within a town.
In most instances, the Legislature has indicated which town officer or body has responsibility to provide particular municipal services. Vermont courts have determined that when authority is provided by the Legislature to a town office, other town offices — even town meeting — may not direct the actions of that town office. The following sections briefly highlight many of these offices and their duties. The reader is strongly urged to read the statutes and Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ (VLCT’s) in-depth handbooks prior to undertaking the responsibilities of a position described herein.