Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Everyone is very familiar with laws, rules and regulations that are enacted by the Federal and State governments. These are approved by Congress or the State Legislature, and in some cases executive orders by the President or the Governor. These laws have broad applicability and are generally well known.
However, there is another entire set of laws passed by the most local government unit, the municipality, which apply only to that Township or Borough.
These rules are permitted to be adopted through state enabling legislation such as the Borough Code, the First Class Township Code, and the Second Class Township Code. In each case the Code provides in some detailed guidance on the issues that can be regulated by the municipality. Typically, the more developed or urban the municipality, the more likely there is a comprehensive set of municipal ordinances. Less developed, more rural municipalities, are less inclined to impose local regulations on its residents.
Types of ordinances include regulations dealing with land use (zoning), storm water, property maintenance, trees, parking, traffic regulations, sidewalks, junkyards, burning, parks and recreation, along with many other items too numerous to specifically list.
Although the ordinances differ from municipality to municipality, residents are presumed to know the laws of the Township or Borough, so ignorance of the law cannot be used as an excuse. However, before enforcement, the municipal code official will frequently provide written notice to the resident of an alleged ordinance violation.
In addition, when a municipality elects to create a new law, there is discussion about the topic during formal meetings of the elected officials, who would then request the municipal solicitor to draft a proposed ordinance. There are also requirements that the ordinance be advertised publicly, prior to enactment, and at times even a formal hearing occurs to insure the public has the right to comment. The notice of the proposed ordinance is published on at least one occasion in a newspaper of general circulation within the municipality. The notice appears in the classified advertising section of the newspaper, under the heading of Legal Notices, so the Notices are not necessarily prominently advertised or even viewed by the average resident. Following the advertisement, the elected officials determine whether or not to adopt the ordinance at a publicly advertised meeting.
Once enacted, ordinances have the force and effect of law and can be enforced by the municipality. Enforcement officers include police officers, code enforcement officers, and municipal zoning officers, based upon the type of ordinance that is being enforced. These ordinances typically have penalty violations that can range anywhere from $500.00 to $1,000.00 per violation. Such penalties are imposed by a local Magisterial District Justice following a hearing on the charges, if the Judge finds the resident guilty.
These local laws have the same force and effect of any state or federal law, and have the ability to be enforced through appropriate mechanisms. Obviously, it is important that residents of the municipality be aware of their local municipal ordinances so as not to violate those rules and risk the possibility of fines or other punishment.
Charles D. Garner, Jr., Esquire, is an attorney at the law firm of Wolf, Baldwin & Associates, P.C., which maintains offices in Pottstown, Reading and West Chester. He has significant experience in municipal representation, zoning and land use matters. He and the firm have other diverse experience including small business representation, municipal employment negotiation and litigation, contracts and civil litigation, and estate planning and administration. Mr. Garner can be reached at 610-323-7436 or by email to email@example.com.