What Is the Role & Function of a Local Government?

Written by aaron gifford
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What Is the Role & Function of a Local Government?
Town Hall is the operations centre of a local government. (old somersault town hall image by green 308 from Fotolia.com)

Maintaining the best interest of a community is much easier if there's a decision-making body to oversee all town/city hall operations and all of the municipal services that benefit residents. As with Congress and state legislatures, local governing bodies such as city councils or town boards are made up of representatives elected by the people. But with local government, the representatives in town or city hall are more easily identified as friends, neighbours and co-workers and should be more approachable and easier to reach.


Local governments may have an appointed budget officer or a team of people who draft annual spending plans, but the plan's adoption is up to the elected officials. Councillors also vote on budget amendments or transfers after a spending plan is adopted and decide on purchases and expenses that weren't budgeted. The local governing body also looks for new revenue sources, such as fees or parking fines. The council or town board also sets property tax rates, which as based on assessed property value and provide a large share of the local revenue.

Constituent Service

In the purest form of local government, a town or city resident should be able to call the elected official that represents their district if a street light is out, or if they think a stop sign is needed at a busy intersection. The councillor is expected to be the resident's connection to the appropriate municipal department that could fix the problem. If the problem can't be resolved quickly, the councillor is expected to bring it up before the full board at a public meeting.

Daily Operations

According to Connexions direct, it's the role of local government to deliver taxpayer-funded services in the most "efficient, economic and effective" way possible. The police chief, fire chief and other department heads may report to a mayor or town supervisor, but the local governing body also has a say in their operations. It's very common for councillors to get monthly department boards in their meeting packets, so issues such as overtime spending or road reconstruction projects can be discussed publicly by the legislative and executive branches of government. The council might also vote on new hires after candidates have been screened by department heads or the personnel director.

Quality of Life and Liability

When political candidates seek public office, they state their intentions of improving the community they would serve. Once elected, they have a chance to make or break campaign promises. The local government would have the most power for building a new park, bringing bus service to a community or rezoning a part of town to accommodate a proposed shopping mall. Councillors can also authorise demolition of structure that pose a threat to public safety, and they can close public parks that are a liability.

Liason to State and Federal Government

Residents in a community can try to call their state or federal representatives, but they're likely to reach an aide or staff member who promises to relay the message upward. Elected officials have a better chance of communicating an issue to the next level of government, especially if the board passes a resolution. Local governments also apply for state or federal grants that can benefit individual homeowners, merchants or non-profit organisations.

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