What is Local Government?

A basic understanding of Pennsylvania’s system of local governments is the first step towards greater involvement, as a citizen or an elected official.
What is Local Government? - Videos

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- [Judy] We pay a lot of attention to state and national government, but how much do you know about your local government?

Let's start with a quick definition.

States are divided into counties.

In Pennsylvania, counties are divided into local governments also called municipalities.

For instance, if you live in Franklin County in Pennsylvania, you also live in a municipality.

It might be a borough or a township.

What does your borough or township do for you?

Almost all local governments own roads and keep them in good repair year-round.

Your municipality also regulates land use, based on the community's goals.

These might include commercial and industrial growth, farmland preservation, or providing a variety of housing options.

Many local governments own and operate public water and sewer systems.

A handful of municipalities own electric utilities and one, the borough of Chambersburg, has a natural gas system.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires every local government to provide fire and rescue services.

While some operate their own departments, most support volunteer fire and rescue companies instead.

Your community may have its own police department or participate in a regional police organization.

If not, then your police protection is provided by the Pennsylvania State Police.

Your township or borough may provide recreation services through parks and other facilities that it owns and maintains.

Some municipalities support historic preservation or have historic districts and provide other cultural and community activities.

Some even own cemeteries.

The type of services your municipality provides is directly related to the revenue it collects.

Real estate and property taxes and income taxes are the main sources of revenue.

Other public funding and grants are usually a small part of the budget.

As a resident, you may also pay user fees for services such as water and sewer.

Your fee is based on how much you use.

You pay a user fee every time you use a parking meter.

So what's your role in local government?

As a citizen, you elect local officials to govern your borough or township, but you can also get involved by serving on a board or commission or as a volunteer.

Sound interesting?

Learn more, start by attending local government meetings.

You'll be surprised how few people do.

Learn about your municipality through its website or Facebook page or in local news media.

Start a dialogue, talk a to a local official and find the right fit for you in your municipality.

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