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Municipal government

As a general term, Municipal government refers to local government operating at the level of a town or city level.

"Municipalities" consist of a group of people living in a defined area. Usually this will be an urban area, but surrounding rural areas may also be included. In most countries, municipalities of various sorts are special corporations defined under state law, and have specific rights and responsibilities.

A "government" (see also politics) consists of a set of people that have legal power over an area of land and the people that inhabit that land.

In the United States, "Municipal government" is the technical term used to describe local government at the level of the city. The remainder of this article gives details of these arrangements.

Municipal Government in the United States

In the United States, cities are the level of local government below that of the county. U.S. cities are governed in one of 2 ways, Council-Manager government and Mayor-Council government.

The rights of a city include:

  1. the ability to require payment of taxes by all those in the city limits;
  2. the ability to create debt on behalf of the citizens, who are responsible for repayment of those debts;
  3. the responsibility to enforce various state laws with a police force;
  4. the responsibility to provide for civil defense and other special needs;

Municipal (another word for 'city') governments are usually administratively divided into several departments, depending on the size of the city. Though cities differ in the division of responsibility, the typical arrangement is to have the following departments handle the following roles:

  1. City Planning and zoning:
  2. Public Works: construction and maintenance of all city-owned or operated assets, including the water supply system, sewer, streets, snow removal, street signs, vehicles, buildings, land, etc.
  3. Parks and Recreation: (construction and maintenance of) city parks, common areas, parkways, publically owned lands, etc. Also, operation of various recreation programs and facilities. Note: often this department operates as a regional entity with its own tax authority and governmental structure.
  4. Police
  5. Fire
  6. Accounting / Finance: collects taxes owed by the city, incorporates human resources department for city workers,
  7. Legal: handles all legal matters including writing municpal bonds, verifying the city is in compliance with state and federal mandates, responding to citizen lawsuits like lawsuits allegedly stemming from city actions or inactions. Typical legal actions include someone falling on city-owned sidewalks suing the city for negligence, a city annexing land, etc.
  8. Transportation (varies widely): If the city has a municipal bus or light rail service, this function may be its own department or it may be folded into the another of the above departments.

For more information on city government, the following organizations might be of interest:

  1. National League of Cities:
  2. National Association of Counties:
  3. American Public Works Association:
  4. National Association of County Engineers:
  5. National Association of Development Organizations:
  6. National Association of Towns and Townships:
  7. National Center for Small Communities:
  8. International City Management Assocation (ICMA):