Tour the police department. Visit the Center for the Arts in South Jersey. Listen to a nature talk while walking through the 1,300-acre Black Run Preserve.
Evesham Township is calling it a “township crawl.” And it’s how the Burlington County community is marking Local Government Week, celebrated this week in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Although the Keystone State has observed the week for more than two decades, this year is the first time the Garden State is joining others across the country in choosing a week to celebrate municipal government. The idea is to help residents understand what their local government does, and encourage them to be more engaged. It is also aimed at gaining financial support from state lawmakers by reminding them of the services municipalities provide.
The observance comes as New Jersey and Pennsylvania legislators discuss over the next couple of months how much money they’ll distribute to local governments in next year’s state budgets.
David Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, called local government “the foundation on which everything is built.”
Decisions that local officials make daily "are far more likely to impact the average citizen than maybe the decisions that are made in Washington, Harrisburg, or Trenton,” Sanko said.
Local governments’ celebrations range from in-school activities to open houses at municipal buildings and public works facilities.
Michael Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, which advocated for the state’s first Local Government Week, said, “It’s kind of a civics lesson, if you will.”
“It came out of a realization that municipal governments are really an untold story much of the time,” he said.
It’s hard to measure the effects of yearly designations and education campaigns, but municipal officials say it can’t hurt.
State Sen. Troy Singleton (D., Burlington), who sponsored legislation designating New Jersey’s Local Government Week, agreed.
“Very often, all of us, no matter which level of government we’re in, we get tunnel vision, “ he said. “We focus on the issues that impact our level of government.”
Singleton said he hopes local governance is one of the issues “on the forefront of legislators’ minds" as budget talks continue.
“That being said, there are a lot of competing interests,” he said.
Robbie Brown, deputy director of the Mississippi Municipal League, said that state’s Municipal Government Week in mid-January is a reminder to legislators when budgets are tight. Municipalities maintain parks and roads, control development, operate libraries, run sports programs, collect taxes, and more.
“Our hope is that we get to use this whole week to show them the city provides all these services, and if cities didn’t provide them, the state would have to take that on,” Brown said.
The state’s Municipal Government Week began decades ago but tapered off. The league resurrected it a few years ago.
“As we traveled the state, we were finding people know about their local government in the sense of when something goes wrong,” such as when their garbage doesn’t disappear from the curb, Brown said.
Laura Holloway, spokesperson for the Missouri Municipal League, said her group’s Local Government Week celebrates "the hard work that makes those services seamless.”
“When local government is working at its best, people don’t really think about it," she said. “Communities are thriving because of people solving problems before they happen.”
Montgomery Township, Montgomery County, focuses its 15-year-old Local Government Week on some of its youngest residents. The township hosts an elementary school field trip to the municipal building, where students can see jail cells and practice guiding a camera through a pipe with sewer authority workers, said Kelsey Whalen, the township’s public information coordinator.