Why is Burlington a Town?
Everything you need to know about the difference between towns and cities in Massachusetts
I used to think a municipality's population and whether or not it had a mayor determined town versus city status. While researching local government, I learned I was mostly wrong. So, here's the scoop.
The standard legislative body for municipalities in MA is Town Meeting, where representatives from each precinct meet periodically to approve financial warrants, zoning requests, and bylaw additions or updates. But that can get unwieldy. I'll say more about TM in my next post, but as an example we have 126 Town Meeting Members in Burlington. In other towns, anyone in town can vote at TM. This can bring a lot of perspectives and facilitate good conversation, but that's a lot of people to involve in a truly participatory discussion.
Towns also have a Select Board (called Board of Selectmen in some towns) - they're the executive branch of the town. They don't approve laws but can initiate and make recommendations on warrant articles (that's the town's version of a bill), and they oversee the implementation of the laws once they're in place. They might also appoint a town manager or administrator to help with that. We have a town administrator and an assistant town administrator.
When a town starts to feel TM is not an effective way to manage its complexities (especially fiscal ones), it can petition the state to change its government to a city form, which involves a town/city council and (optionally) a mayor.
Population does figure in here, but there's not a magic cutoff point that flips the switch between town and city. According to my mass dot gov source below, between 25k and 45k, towns and cities are more or less evenly split. Over 35k, 83% of our municipalities are towns. Burlington's population is about 27,650.
So, there you have it. I hope I clarified any curiosity you have regarding the difference between towns and cities in Massachusetts and why our humble town is just that - a town. Questions? Click here for more info.