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The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and Its Municipal Government Structure

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The following is a guest post by Jesús Colón Rosado, an intern working in the Public Services Division at the Law Library of Congress. Jesús previously authored the post The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and its Government Structure.


Under the Spanish regime, the government of each municipality in Puerto Rico was called an ayuntamiento (local government). Each ayuntamiento consisted of a mayor and councilors, whose number varied depending on the population of the municipality. The municipal council nominated a mayor, but the governor general made the appointment official.

A sepia tone double image of children on a road, with mountains in the background.
Mountain-side farms and homes at Cayey, where Porto Rico’s finest tobacco is grown. [1900]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //
After the change of sovereignty in 1898, the municipal system largely remained intact as Puerto Rico was transferred from Spanish to American rule. The Puerto Rican (P.R.) constitution of 1952, article VI, section 1, states:

The Legislative Assembly shall have the power to create, abolish, consolidate and reorganize municipalities; to change their territorial limits; to determine their organization and functions; and to authorize them to develop programs for the general welfare and to create any agencies necessary for that purpose.

For decades, the P.R. legislative assembly legislated and regulated municipal operations. The Puerto Rico Autonomous Municipalities Act of 1991 modified how the P.R. government and its municipal governments provided services to citizens. This law was repealed and replaced by the Puerto Rico Municipal Code in August 2020. The 2020 code incorporated all legislation related to municipalities and the hundreds of amendments made over the years to the Autonomous Municipalities Act.

Puerto Rico Municipal Code

The code’s intent is to integrate, organize, and update local laws, and create greater municipal autonomy. The code consists of eight books, which in turn are subdivided into chapters and articles.

A marble sculpture with tile mosaics of the Puerto Rico flag, next to the coats of arms for nine Puerto Rico municipal governments. The ocean is visible in the background.
Puerto Rico Municipalities Coats of Arm, Photo by Flickruser
Jimmy Emerson, DVM May 23, 2017. Used under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Book I: Municipal Government

This book includes the rules and laws concerning the mayor’s powers and responsibilities in relation to the duties of the municipal legislature (also known as city councils). Both mayors and city councilors serve four-year terms.

The 78 municipalities’ governments are made up of two branches, the legislative and the executive. (Municipal Code, art. 1.006) The municipal legislature is vested with powers similar to those of the P.R. legislative branch. However, in contrast with the P.R. legislature, the municipal legislature is unicameral. (Art. 1.020) The number of its members is proportional to the total population of each city. Members of the city council are delegated the task of discussing public affairs and have special responsibility for monitoring and controlling the activities of the municipal executive branch and mayor. (Art. 1.039)

The municipal legislature has responsibility for approving the budget, confirming the mayor’s cabinet, levying local taxes, approving public order codes and regulations, establishing fines, and evaluating legal sanctions. (Art. 1.039)

Meanwhile, mayors in Puerto Rico must organize, direct, and supervise all the daily municipal administrative activities. They prepare the municipality’s general budget and hire professional, technical, and consulting services as necessary. Mayors also supervise, manage, and authorize the disbursement of funds (state and federal) received by the municipality. (Art. 1.018)

Book II: Municipal Administration

Book II contains information related to municipal administration and includes provisions addressing the planning, organization, and control of resources available to the municipality. It is divided into sections on municipal processes and financial management.

Book III: Municipal Services

This portion of the code discusses municipal services, groups that provide public utilities, and other activities that the municipal government must carry out, and whose interruption would adversely affect the well-being and stability of its residents. Book III is subdivided into four parts: transit and public works (public transportation, road maintenance, bridges, and school preservation); public health (municipal-owned hospitals and diverse health programs); safety, recreation, and sports (municipal police, construction of community gyms, and diverse sports programs); and education (developing schools focusing on fine arts and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)).

Book IV: Municipal Processes and Community Management

Book IV focuses on municipal procedures related to the development of community and citizen participation. This book includes, for example, a provision directing municipalities to create an office for community affairs to develop a community management program that would channel citizen collaboration and direct participation with the government.

Book V: Economic Development

This provision includes the norms, rules, and laws concerning the capacity of municipal governments to sponsor, promote, and market the establishment of businesses and industries. Additionally, it discusses the potential for tourism development to create new jobs and improve overall fiscal health. For example, the Municipal Alliance of Integrated Services (AMSI) provides employment and training services to youth, adults, displaced persons, veterans, and social security disability recipients.

Book VI: Territorial Planning and Ordering

This book includes topics related to the sustainable use of municipal land, focusing on social, cultural, and economic aspects that make up a geographical jurisdiction.

Book VII: Municipal Treasury

The book on the municipal treasury contains the most relevant information for municipalities and their mayors. It establishes the norms, rules, and laws related to income and financing for the operation of municipalities. This book is divided into sections discussing the Municipal Tax Collection Center (CRIM), types of municipal taxes, and municipal financing.

CRIM is a municipal entity independent of other government agencies. It renders fiscal services for municipalities and is responsible for notifying, assessing, collecting, receiving, and distributing public funds from property taxes, state subsidies, funds from the electronic lottery, and any other funds provided by law for P.R. municipalities.

Book VIII: Definitions, Table of Contents, Repeals, Separability and Validity

The last book in the municipal code includes legal definitions inherited from previous codes discussed above, as well as the table of contents covering the entire code.

If you would like to learn more about Puerto Rico and its political structure, you can consult these additional selected sources:

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  1. Congrats on a great article, very relevant information!

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