CIVICS 101

What is A Municipality?


Cities, boroughs and townships make up the 2,562 municipalities in Pennsylvania. Their job is to provide for the public health, safety, and welfare of their residents. Municipalities

are important because many of the services they make available are not usually provided by the private sector. Historically, municipalities have been responsible for the upkeep of

roads, making sure there is public safety by police and firefighters, as well as, providing planning and zoning oversight. Local government may also provide sewer, water, and trash collection services. However, these services can also be provided by Authorities or by the private sector in some municipalities.


Municipalities operate through local ordinances, which are local laws adopted and enforced to provide for the public health, safety, and welfare of its residents. Pennsylvania residents have a voice at the local level and can help set a vision for their community. Residents, through their elected officials, are able to have a major effect on services provided to their community. They can also address the appearance and desirability of a community and can urge their elected officials to support cultural activities, parks and recreation, senior centers, museums, and other important services.


Pennsylvania Has 5 Major Types of Municipalities

· BOROUGHS

· COUNTIES

· CITIES

· INCORPORATED TOWNS

· TOWNSHIPS


We will focus on Cities. In many ways’ city government is based upon state government.

There is a Chief Executive and a group (usually a city council) that makes the laws (often called ordinances). Fifty-three Pennsylvania cities are third class cities.


Pennsylvania Has 4 Forms of City Government

· MAYOR-COUNCIL FORM

· COUNCIL-MANAGER FORM

· COMMISSION FORM

· WEAK MAYOR COUNCIL FORM


Harrisburg is defined under the Mayor-Council form and has a seven-member council elected at-large for overlapping four-year terms. The Mayor, Treasurer and a Controller are also elected for four years. The Mayor is the Chief Executive of the city and enforces the ordinances of Council. The Mayor supervises the work of all city departments, appoints department heads and submits the annual city budget to council. The Council sets policy by passing ordinances which are sent to the Mayor to be signed into law.


The City Treasurer and City Controller must be Accountants. The Treasurer is also the tax collector, responsible for city, school district and, in some cases, county taxes. The Controller is responsible for examining and auditing city accounts and expenditures. Some of the most important decisions made in city government are regarding economic viability. Cities must develop and adopt a budget each year. This budget spells out what the city expects to collect in revenue and must estimate the expenses of every department (police, fire, community and economic development and, public works, to name a few). City officials must also set goals for spending money and decide which services are needed most. The budget then follows the plan for the next twelve months.


Budget hearings are usually held in public before a budget is adopted. At hearings government officials listen to residents and discuss how spending will affect the city. Pennsylvania’s cities offer residents many opportunities to get engaged and get involved with their city government. Volunteers serve on municipal boards, advisory committees, authorities, and commissions to help make local decisions. Volunteers are appointed by the city’s Mayor, Council, and Directors. Serving on a recreation commission, for example, gives volunteers the chance to help guide the activities available in parks and playgrounds. Some boards, such as historical and architectural review boards, require specific knowledge and certain qualifications. You can contact your local municipality to learn more about the advisory committees, authorities, and commissions in your community to see how you can put your talents and skill set to work for your municipality.

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