How Township Government Works
Townships governed by elected boards of supervisors are the most common form of municipal government in Pennsylvania. The 1,459 second class townships represent 56.7% of all general purpose municipal governments in Pennsylvania. The state's township supervisors govern a combined population of 4.2 million, representing 35.4% of the state total, more than any other municipal classification.
Townships provide important community services which are generally unsuited to private enterprise. Townships have traditionally been heavily involved in the maintenance of roads and have the ultimate responsibility for public safety, including police, firefighting, and emergency services management. Townships often provide water, sewer, and refuse collection services, as well as code enforcement, recreation, and land use planning and regulation.
The board of supervisors plays the central role in township government. Section 607 of the Second Class Township Code, as amended, places general supervision of the affairs of the township in the hands of a board of supervisors. The board serves as the legislative body of the township, setting policy, enacting ordinances and resolutions, adopting budgets, and levying taxes. Other functions such as formulating the budget, enforcing ordinances, approving expenditures, and hiring and firing employees are often delegated by the board of supervisors to a professional township manager and/or township staff.
Other elected township officers include three auditors and the tax collector. The elected auditors conduct the annual audit of township finances, except when an independent auditor has been appointed by the board of supervisors.
The tax collector collects school district and township real estate taxes and in some cases county real estate taxes. Tax collectors also collect certain special township assessments, such as solid waste collection and disposal fees.
The only two (2) mandatory township appointed offices are the secretary and the treasurer. The secretary and treasurer may be appointed from the members of the board of supervisors, may be an outside individual or, in the case of treasurer, may be a financial institution. Other appointed positions, other than administrative positions, include the township solicitor and township engineer. The solicitor has control of the legal matters of the township including bonds, real estate transactions, review and preparation of ordinances and actions in court. Township engineers do engineering work for townships on roads and other public works projects. The engineer also prepares plans, specifications and estimates for work to be performed under contract.
The successful operation of a township is a complex task requiring the time and effort of many individuals. The Second Class Township Code and other state legislation allow the board of supervisors to enlist the capabilities of citizens of the municipality through creating authorities, boards and commissions Although some of these entities are mandatory, such as zoning hearing boards in communities that have adopted local zoning ordinances, many others are permissive. The use of authorities, boards and commissions not only allows the government body to draw on citizens with particular expertise, but also provides a channel for citizens to become more directly involved in local government. The members of most authorities, boards and commissions serve without pay.