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Ordinances

Codification of Ordinances

Introduction

In order to follow and enforce local ordinances, people must be able to efficiently access and reference them. Codification is the way municipalities make it easy for people to find and read the laws they are expected to follow. Codification is the process of organizing and recording all permanent ordinances adopted by the governing body into a code book in which the laws are arranged by subject matter. This book (the "municipal code") gives each ordinance a permanent identifying number, and usually includes a table of contents and index, so people can easily look up the law on any particular topic.

Narrative

State law requires that each permanent, ongoing ordinance be codified after it is adopted. Specifically, it states that “within three years after incorporation of a municipality, the municipal clerk or clerk’s designee shall have prepared a general codification (organized book) of all municipal ordinances of general applicability having the force and effect of law. The municipal code shall be revised and printed at least every five years, unless the code is kept current by regular supplements.”

In addition to the legal and practical reasons for codifying your ordinances, there are financial reasons for doing so. State law requires a municipality to certify that the ordinances are codified in order to qualify for Community Revenue Sharing payments. The Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA) Local Government Specialists (LGSs) are available to train and assist clerks with codification. The DCRA Community Aid and Accountability (CAA) section maintains an on-line library of adopted municipal codes that are voluntarily submitted to DCRA.

Some municipalities codify ordinances in-house, and some contract with a publishing company specializing in codes. Others may contract for the initial codification and maintain the supplements between periodic reprinting.

If a municipality has not codified its ordinances, the following process may be used to organize and codify:

  • Determine the system of titling and numbering for your code. A popular system is the State Statute Method. Like the Alaska Statutes, this method organizes ordinances by specific titles and subdivided into chapters and sections. For example, “Title 12, Chapter 20, Section 1” refers to the first section in the twentieth chapter of the twelfth title of the municipal code of ordinances. A municipality may adopt any titling and numbering system it chooses, as long as it is logical and consistent.
  • Separate by subject all ordinances passed by the council or assembly. This will allow you to determine the most recent ordinance on any given subject.
  • Determine which title each group of ordinances should be included under. 
  • Enter the provisions of each ordinance under the appropriate title, chapter, and section of your code.
  • Create a table of contents.
  • Index the code. This is a tedious but important step that will make it much easier for anyone to find what they are looking for in the code. The best method of indexing is to list topics and subtopics in alphabetical order in the back of the code with cross references and code numbers. For example:

Meetings (also see Ordinance)

    • Agenda 2.12.040 (also see Regulations)
    • Call to order 2.12.070
    • Executive session 2.12.030
    • Notice 2.08.055
  • Present the completed code to the council for review and official adoption
  • Once the titling and numbering system is established, any new proposed code ordinance should specify which title and section of the code it will be in based on the subject matter.

A municipality's assigned LGS may assist with comiling an electronic, editable version of a municipal code. The electronic version allows future changes to be made more easily.

Updating a Code

As new ordinances are adopted, whether they add, amend or repeal portions of the code, it will be necessary to update the code. If you have the code of ordinances on your computer, it will be easy to codify new ordinances immediately after adoption. Enter the new provisions of each new code ordinance under the appropriate title, chapter, and section of the code. If your new ordinances were properly written, they will already include a reference to the title and section of the code where they are inserted. If the title and section is not referenced, use your best judgment to decide which title is most appropriate.

For ordinances that amend an existing section of the code, enter the amended language in the appropriate section and indicate the date of the amendment. For ordinances that repeal an existing section of the code, delete the repealed language from the code and enter the date of the repeal. Whenever updating the code, be sure to make the appropriate changes to the table of contents and the index. Any code ordinances that have not been codified should be entered in a supplement to the code until they are codified. If you have an outside source maintaining your code, submit any new adopted ordinances to that entity in order to make the changes to the code. The time and expense of periodic updating must be weighed against the public’s need to know the law and the municipality’s duty to inform the public.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why codify ordinances?

State law requires codification. This requirement assures it is easy for people to find the laws they are expected to obey, or in the case of municipal employees, the laws they are expected to enforce, and to know what will happen if the laws are not obeyed. If a municipality does not codify its ordinances, the state can withhold Community Revenue Sharing payments and other forms of aid and assistance to the municipality.

Does every ordinance have to be codified?

Only code ordinances must be codified. Non-code ordinances are not incorporated into the code. Refer back to the LOGON section on Municipal Ordinances for the definitions of code and non-code ordinances.

Does a binder with all permanent adopted ordinances arranged in order by serial number and date of adoption satisfy the requirement for codification?

No. The ordinance serial number provides a method to track each ordinance that is introduced. In order to satisfy the requirements for codification, the provisions of all code ordinances must be inserted into the appropriate section(s) of the code of ordinances.

Should we keep the original signed copy of the ordinances after they have been codified into the code?

Yes. Keep the original copy of the ordinance as passed by the governing body with the mayor’s signature in a permanent ordinance file. Original copies become important if the ordinance is challenged in court. Information on retaining these records can be found in the Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks (AAMC) handbook and Alaska’s Local Government Records Retention Schedule.

How often should we update our code of ordinances?

State law requires that a municipality’s ordinances be codified within three years after incorporation and revised and reprinted at least every five years, unless the code is kept current by regular supplements.

Who is responsible for maintaining the code of ordinances?

State law provides that the municipal clerk shall maintain an indexed file of all permanent municipal records and provide for codification of the ordinances.

Additional Resources

Publications:

Recommended web site search topics:

  • State of Alaska Local Government General Records Retention Schedule
  • Alaska Association of Municipal Clerks Handbook
Applicable Laws and Regulations

Alaska Statutes:

  • AS 29.20.380(a)(5) Municipal Clerk.
  • AS 29.25.050 Codification.
Revised 12/31/2014