How Does the Borough Government Work?

By Betsy Brantner

Understanding how Borough government works may seem a daunting task, especially when you are standing before a Borough Council. I hope this column can take a little of the mystery out of government workings.
1. There are four general types of municipalities in Pennsylvania: counties, cities, boroughs and townships. There are nine classes of counties, four classes of cities, and two classes of townships. Each class of municipality operates under its own code of laws. The Borough operates under the Borough Code. This code defines the governmental structure as well as the general and specific powers of local government.
This may answer an often asked question that newcomers have:
Why isn’t this done the same way as it was in my previous location?
If you previously lived in a first class city such as Philadelphia, that municipality would be operating under a different code than our Borough does.
2. The present type of borough government is the weak mayor form* which governed all incorporated municipalities during the 19th century. Most of the present cities were boroughs first and then became cities as their populations grew. Boroughs have a strong and dominant council, a weak executive and other elected officers with powers independent of the council. The governing body of the borough is an elected council. The tax collector, tax assessor and the auditors also are elected. Many other officials are appointed by borough council.
The mayor is elected for a four-year term; council members are elected for four-year overlapping terms. A borough not divided into wards usually has seven council members; in boroughs divided into wards, at least one and not more than two are elected from each ward. The powers of council are broad and extensive, covering virtually the whole range of urban municipal functions.
In more than 200 boroughs, the chief administrative officer is a manager appointed by council. The manager is responsible for carrying out the policies and enforcing the ordinances of council, relieving council from routine day-to-day administration.
The Borough Manager’s responsibilities include:
  • Professional Administrator of Public Works Department (which includes Streets and Water Department), Administrative and Codes Enforcement departments
  • Compiles Annual Budget of all departments and oversees expenditures
  • Works with Borough engineers and solicitors
  • Prepares agenda and folders for council meetings and attends meetings
  • Attends other Borough meetings as needed
  • Acts as liaison between Council and community, and community organizations
  • Enforces policies and codes as defined by Council
  • No voting power on Council
3. Defining the line of authority and responsibility over policing between Council, Mayor and Chief is a constant area of controversy in Boroughs. This is very important given the complexity of police service.
Council’s responsibilities:
  • Policy Making Board for Police Services/Set Policy
  • Determines Budget, Level of Service, Size of Police Force
  • Number of Officers, Number of Vehicles, Amount of Equipment
  • Salary and Benefits, Hours of Work
  • Collective Bargaining Under Act 111
  • Decide Nature of Work, Regulations Governing Operations
  • Appoints Officers & Chief who supervises finance or major purchasing and discusses proposals for policy, operational procedures or personnel changes.
Mayor’s responsibilities:
  • By Borough Code - "Full Charge and Control of Police Chief and Force"
  • May Delegate Supervision Police in Emergency, Auxiliary Police
  • Carries Out Policies of Borough Council
  • Serves as Liaison Between Council and Chief
  • Can declare emergenicies
  • May veto ordinances
  • Responsible for enforcing borough ordinances
  • Only votes at Council meetings to break a tie except when it involves hiring/firing police personel or if it is a conflict of interest
  • Professional Administrator of Police Services
  • Reports to Mayor
  • Daily Administration of Police Officers and Police Activities
  • Budget Development and Management
This is a very brief overview of our local Borough government. The best way to learn more is to attend the Borough’s monthly meetings, the second and third Monday of every month at 7 p.m. in the Borough Hall at 401 Market Street.
If you would like to attend a Borough Council meeting to discuss a particular concern please call Linda Himmelberger at the Borough Hall, 610-932-2500 at extension 303, and asked to be placed on the agenda.
If you have further questions about how local government works, please call Brian Hoover the Borough Manager at 610-932-2500, ext. 302.
*Section 6-5 Pennsylvania Manual