Why do some towns choose ‘home rule?’

Municipalities have the right under Pennsylvania’s Constitution to choose home rule, which grants certain limited powers. Towns choose home rule for two main reasons, said Jim Nowalk, president of the Pennsylvania State Mayors’ Association and mayor of Allegheny County’s Whitehall Borough: money, and at least a sense of control. Of Pennsylvania’s 2,560 municipalities, only 96 have chosen home rule, including 24 in the five-county Philadelphia region, according to the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development. Philadelphia was the first to vote to accept a home-rule charter in 1951.

Municipalities “don’t like the limits that are in state law,” said Joseph McLaughlin, director of the Temple University Institute for Public Affairs, but “most municipalities have considered [home rule] not to be worth the effort.” A home-rule charter is a local constitution that sets out the powers and structure of government.

Home rule municipalities have some autonomy but must abide by the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions and other state laws. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development calls home rule “limited independence.” A municipality or county can ask voters in a ballot question whether they want to form a commission that studies whether and how to create a home-rule charter.

The home-rule process, which includes public hearings and expert testimony, can take 18 months or more. If the commission recommends switching to home rule, residents then vote to adopt or reject the new charter. Read more here.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer; 10/8/2018