Boroughs have a strong and dominant council and a weak mayor. Other officials are appointed by borough council.
(Exception: 19 boroughs in Pennsylvania operate under home rule charters.)
WHO’S AT THE TABLE
Council members — in most boroughs there are six, two for each ward. A borough not divided into wards has three, five or seven council members.
Mayor – has little power in a borough, except as head of the police department, if there is one. Votes only to break ties.
In addition to the elected officials above, a borough council table typically includes key borough employees. These people, especially the borough manager, may know more about most issues than the elected officials:
Borough manager — the chief administrative officer. Carries out the policies and enforces the ordinances of council, relieving councilmen from routine daily administration
Solicitor — the borough’s attorney. Prepares ordinances and advises on legal issues.
Treasurer – the chief financial officer. Prepares annual budget.
Chief of Police — if the borough has its own police department. The police are hired and paid by borough council but the mayor is their supervisor and may speak for them.
Boroughs may also have an assistant borough manager, a secretary and heads of various departments like water, sewer and streets. One person may fill a number of these roles.
Many boroughs in Pennsylvania are now the landlocked older downtown core or business district of a region, surrounded by townships where the regional growth is taking place. Many boroughs suffer from aging infrastructure and little room for taxable growth, while providing and disproportionately supporting services such as fire stations, police departments, libraries, parks, sewers and water systems used by residents of the entire region.
POTENTIALLY USEFUL INFORMATION
Borough councils reorganize on the first Monday in January of even-numbered years, when they choose a president and vice president of council.
Borough councils pass their annual budgets by Dec. 31 of each year. The new budget begins January 1. The budgeting process begins as early as the prior summer.
Council members and the mayor cannot serve as borough manager, secretary or treasurer. In boroughs with populations over 3,000, no elected official may serve as an employee of the borough.
Borough council members can be paid $1,875 to $5,000 per year, and the mayor can be paid $2,500 to $7,500 per year, depending on the borough’s population. Their actual salaries are established by ordinance. Not all boroughs pay their council members and mayor.
Borough councilmen and the mayor serve four-year terms. Council member serve overlapping terms. Also elected are the tax collector, assessor, constables, and three auditors or a controller.
School board members cannot also hold elective borough offices.
Council may, by a two-thirds vote, appoint a professional accounting firm to conduct an annual audit.
Boroughs with three or more police officers or three or more paid firefighters have to hire those employees through a civil service system run by a civil service commission which is appointed by council.
Small boroughs with too few candidates may petition the state to reduce the size of their councils.