Legal Hotline: Proposed Budget Copies and Inspection

Legal Hotline: Proposed Budget Copies and Inspection

PNA Legal Hotline

Q:  A borough in our coverage area discussed and approved a proposed budget at its last public meeting. They also published public notice of the proposed budget’s approval. When I asked for a copy at the meeting and later at the borough’s main office, borough officials refused to provide a copy.  The borough said I can review a copy of the proposed budget but only during specific inspection times, which are very limited.  Can they do that?

A:  No. A proposed budget is a public record, and copies must be provided, both during the meeting where it was discussed and afterward.  Moreover, the proposed budget must be available for public inspection and copying during the agency’s normal business hours.

The Borough Code governs the borough’s budget adoption process.  Specifically, 8 Pa.C.S. §§ 1307-1310 requires boroughs to formulate, propose and adopt a budget before Dec. 31 each year.  As part of the budget process, section 1308  requires the borough secretary to provide public notice informing citizens that the proposed budget is available for public inspection.  This public notice must be published in a newspaper of general circulation at least 10 days before the final budget is adopted where the proposed budget receipts exceed $50,000, which is most boroughs in the Commonwealth. The law also imposes criminal sanctions for failure or refusal to provide public notice of the proposed budget in accordance with the law.

The Borough Code clearly makes proposed budgets public records, and as such, section 701 of the Right-to-Know Law requires the county to provide copies and permit public inspection of public records during the county’s regular business hours.

Moreover, section 708(b)(10)(ii) of the RTKL requires agencies to provide public access to records that are presented for deliberation during a public meeting.  The proposed budget should have been available during the meeting in which the proposed budget was deliberated. Section 708(b)(10) requires public access so that the public can understand and follow along with the discussion at public meetings to facilitate informed and meaningful public comment before official action takes place.

The Borough Code provisions discussed above are similar to other local government codes like the Second Class Township Code (section 3202), Third Class City Code (section 1809), and County Code (section 1782), all of which contain public access provisions that are intended to facilitate and encourage public participation in and understanding of the budget process.  Refusing to provide copies of a proposed budget and limiting the right to inspect it create significant barriers to access that directly conflict with the plain language and clear intent of these laws as well as the Right-to-Know Law.

Copies of proposed budgets should be available during the public meeting where the proposal is discussed, and copies must be provided and made readily available for public inspection during the agency’s regular business hours consistent with local government codes and the Right-to-Know Law.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please contact your newspaper’s private attorney or the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.