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Size Doesn’t Matter in Local Government

A recent edition of the "PSATS Morning News" provided some interesting factoids that enlightened me as to the general make-up of townships in Pennsylvania. Derived from the 2020 Census results, the "Center for Rural Pennsylvania has revised its definition of rural/urban municipalities.

Municipal Definition – A municipality is rural when the number of people per square mile in the municipality is fewer than 291 or the municipality is in a rural county and has fewer than 2,500 residents. Other municipalities are considered urban. 

Uniquely enough, of the 2,560 municipalities within the Commonwealth, 1,649 municipalities, or 64%, are considered rural, and 911 municipalities, or 36%, fit the definition of urban.  In comparison, if you look at the 2010 census results, it defined a municipality as rural when the municipality’s population density was less than 284 persons per square mile or the total population was less than 2,500. This previous definition categorized 1,592 (62%) municipalities as rural and 970 (38%) as urban.  This tells us that rural municipalities are on the rise.

So, does being categorized as "rural" mean your municipality is any less important? Does it mean that you can't compete for funding with the big boys? Is your municipality just a small fish in a big pond? The answer is a resounding no! You are entitled to some of those millions of dollars the state provides for various activities and improvements. Odds are that if you’re missing out on state dollars, it’s because your municipality simply hasn’t been able to dedicate the necessary time and resources to successfully apply for funding. Yes, it is a detailed process, and most rural "mom and pop municipalities" are ill-equipped to handle the complexities of many of these processes.

Fear not, as help is available. You just need to prioritize state funding as one of your strategic goals, and then begin to develop a long-term plan for obtaining those funds. Those municipalities that have a plan in place and provide supporting documentation with their applications have a significantly improved chance of success. One of the very first steps you can take is to implement an STMP or Strategic Management Plan. If this sounds like it might be financially burdensome, rest assured that the state does offer financial assistance to help municipalities go through the STMP process. Sure, you are a rural community, but showing the government agencies that you are serious and have goals supported by the residents, goes a long way in obtaining approval. Odds are you won’t be applying for $50 million to build a new sports stadium, but you may want 50,000 for a new recreational center. Proving the need, demonstrating your financial position, and showing that the public is in support of your actions dramatically improves your success rate. Once you have completed STMP, you should be identifying and developing other opportunities to enhance your community further. This is not a once done process. A plan to regularly apply for funding is prudent management.

It is not just urban municipalities that need this form of background information. Rural townships and boroughs can utilize it in the same way, opening doors many never even knew existed. If you’re interested in learning more about the STMP process and how it can help you be better positioned to successfully win approval of state funding, contact Keystone Municipal Solutions. The team at KMS has skilled professionals with years of experience in the STMP process. They have contacts and insight to get your plan together in a timely fashion and steer you in the right direction for opportunities you thought only the big boys got. This vital first step will work very well for the 64% of rural municipalities in Pennsylvania.

All I can say is, "fire this thing up," size really doesn't matter if you are seeking opportunities from the Commonwealth. Those with a well-prepared plan will rise to the top; after all, 64% is much larger than 36%!


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 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.

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