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Home Rule 101


If your municipality seeks more autonomy in the way in which it can operate and be governed, you may want to look into the process of becoming a “home rule” municipality. But what does “home rule” mean?

 

Essentially, it means your municipality is governed by its own Home Rule Charter, rather than the powers designated to it by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

 

Pennsylvania defines home rule charter as a written document defining the powers, structure, privileges, rights and duties of the municipal government and limitations thereon. The charter shall also provide for the composition and election of the governing body, which in all cases shall be chosen by popular elections.

 

In full disclosure, I served as township manager for a home rule municipality for over 23 years, and I felt the Home Rule Charter allowed for very effective governance and oversight. Let’s take a closer look at this option and see if your municipality should consider the Home Rule option.

 

If having more autonomy and the ability to tailor government structure and policies to local needs is favorable to your citizens, then by all means dig a little deeper. You’ll find that you can enact and enforce local ordinances without approval from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, allowing for quicker decision-making.  Home Rule municipalities can experiment with innovative policies to address unique local challenges. Of course, a competent legal team is always a godsend when heading into unchartered political waters.

 

Once you are a home rule form of government, you’ll be able to access a broader range of revenue sources, such as local taxes and fees, potentially reducing reliance of state funds. You’ll also be able to create government structure that better aligns with the community’s values and preferences.

 

One might ask why more municipalities haven’t transitioned to a home rule form of government. Well, as with anything, home rule charter has both advantages and disadvantages. You’ll need to balance all potential impacts to determine if a leap to “home rule” is worth considering. Transitioning to home rule can be administratively complex, involving the rewriting of charters and laws, many of which may have been in place for decades. Lord knows how some of us react to that word, “change.” This action will certainly have some costs associated with it, as you will no doubt incur legal costs and additional hours of work from your administrative staff.

 

Some may argue that home rule can lead to disparities among municipalities, as smaller ones may lack the resources to manage additional responsibilities created by the move. Others may say that home rule municipalities don’t have the same opportunities to access certain state funding or assistance programs.

 

So, is it worthwhile for your municipality? That’s a question worth asking, and I would recommend reaching out to professionals who have experience with these issues. Our team at Keystone Municipal Solutions has experience with the pros and cons of home rule governance. We stand ready to help with management problems, implementing an STMP and host of other indispensable services required to make your operation run smoothly.

 

As always, let’s “fire this thing up,” and look to the future. Remember, “if it was easy, anyone could do it.”

 

 About the Author

David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 33 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at david@keystonemunicipalsolutions.com. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.

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