Reporter's Guide to Pennsylvania Local Government

what you really need to know when they send you to a meeting


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An ordinance is a local law of general or permanent nature. An ordinance stays on the books until it is amended or repealed by another ordinance enacted by a later board or council.

[A resolution is an official statement of the will of the governing body. Resolutions are used for temporary actions such as adopting budgets (except where ordinances are required by state law), governing investments, setting salary schedules and awarding contracts.]

Failure to comply with some ordinances can lead to criminal charges. Others go through civil proceedings. And some ordinances are required by state law for specific actions of a governing body, such as establishing a housing code.

Solicitors prepare ordinances.


  • The governing body (council, board of supervisors or commissioners) talks about what it wants to enact.
  • A member makes a motion to authorize the solicitor to draft the ordinance. Someone else seconds the motion. A majority votes in favor of the motion.
  • The solicitor prepares a draft ordinance, which he or she returns at a later meeting.
  • The governing body discusses the draft.
  • In third-class cities, state law spells out a formal procedure for presenting the draft and requires three days between presentation and action by city council.  Borough and township codes don’t require any time lapse, but individual municipalities may have their own policies. Also, in some municipalities proposed legislation is discussed and revised by committees before the elected officials vote on the draft.
  • The governing body votes on the draft. If it is approved, it goes to the secretary to be advertised.
  • Some ordinances require public hearings, and some municipalities hold public hearings on some ordinances even when a hearing is not required.
  • All proposed ordinances must be published in a “newspaper of general circulation” not more than 60 nor less than seven days before passage. The advertisement says where the public can read copies of the draft – like the newspaper office and a public office.
  • After the advertisement period, the public may comment on the ordinance at the next meeting of the governing body.
  • If the governing body makes substantial changes, the procedure has to be repeated.
  • Otherwise, it may vote to adopt the ordinance.


Ordinances adopted without strict compliance to the advertising requirements can be void.

Three types of ordinances – each of which would be extremely large — don’t have to be published in full but do have to be announced in a newspaper and be available for public inspection:

  • Ordinances adopting standard building or housing codes.
  • Ordinances establishing comprehensive plans, subdivision regulations and zoning ordinances.
  • Ordinances consolidating, codifying or revising a group or body of already existing ordinances with no substantive changes. If the changes contain penalties, the notice must say so.

For more information, consult the Solicitor’s Handbook  and the Manual for Municipal Secretaries.


Written by pareporter

May 16, 2010 at 5:59 pm

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