Tips for Using Model Ordinances

State and federal agencies and municipal leagues periodically develop model ordinances to assist counties and municipalities in drafting new legislation to address certain topics. Some common examples are floodplain management ordinances based on FEMA requirements and stormwater management ordinances. These ordinances are typically available on the website of the agency or municipal league.

A model ordinance can be an excellent starting point for drafting a new ordinance but it is just that – a starting point. A model ordinance, like any other draft ordinance, should be thoroughly reviewed and tailored to meet the specific requirements of your municipality before it is adopted. Below are some tips and hints from the editors at General Code for using model ordinances.

  • Fill in all of the blanks. In addition to the municipality name, there are often blanks where you need to insert the title of a municipal official or board, fee amounts and penalties. The ordinance should be carefully reviewed before adoption to ensure that no blanks remain.
  • Watch for text in brackets that needs to be replaced, e.g., “[name of municipality]” and “[insert date].” These items must be removed and replaced with the appropriate information.
  • Check all references to the governing body and other boards, commissions and officials to ensure they reflect the correct titles for your municipality (e.g., Board of Aldermen or Mayor and Council; Clerk or Clerk-Treasurer; Building Inspector or Code Enforcement Officer; Plan Commission or Planning Commission; Board of Appeals or Board of Adjustment).
  • Make sure the proper ordaining clause is included at the beginning of the ordinance and that the ordinance includes a severability section and a section indicating when it will become effective.
  • If text is marked “Optional” in the model you need to decide whether to include it or remove it. If you do not want to include the optional text it should be deleted to avoid any confusion; if you want it to be retained the word “Optional” should be removed.
  • If the model offers different versions or alternatives for a particular section, you need to decide which one should be included in your ordinance and delete the alternatives that were not selected.
  • Check internal references (cross-references) within the text carefully. If you add or delete one or more sections and then renumber, or otherwise change the numbering, then any internal references must be updated accordingly. If you have to delete one or more sections, consider making them “reserved” sections rather than deleting them entirely so that the overall numbering of the ordinance does not change and the internal references will remain correct. “Reserved” also allows you to add sections later on without having to renumber.
  • Check statutory references to ensure they are up-to-date and delete any statutory references or wording that does not apply to your type of municipality. Model ordinances are often promulgated by state agencies for use by all types of municipalities in that state. So, for example, if you are a city and a section in the model reads “pursuant to § 62.23 for cities, § 61.35 for villages, or § 60.61 for towns,” in your ordinance this wording should be revised to read “pursuant to § 62.23.”
  • Delete any notes and instructions that relate to how to use or fill out the model. These notes should not be included in the final version of the ordinance that is adopted.
  • If there are references to attachments make sure the attachments are actually included and have been tailored to reflect your municipality.
  • Read the ordinance. It sounds simple and obvious but our experience suggests that this step is often skipped. There really is no substitute for having someone sit down and read the ordinance all the way through, preferably someone with expertise on the subject matter. As with any piece of legislation, the ordinance should also be reviewed by your municipal attorney. A careful reading of the ordinance before it is adopted will catch many of the errors outlined above.
  • Consider whether the adoption of this new ordinance will affect any other laws your municipality has adopted. Is there an existing ordinance that covers the same subject matter as the new ordinance? If so, wording should be included in the model, or a separate amendment should be drafted, to repeal or revise the existing ordinance so that there are no conflicts with the new law.
  • Integrate the ordinance into your Code. Once it has been reviewed and adopted, your constituents will expect to find the updated ordinance in your Code. For General Code clients with eCode360®, a new law will be posted as a PDF to the New Laws section of your eCode within two business days of when you send it to us at [email protected]. Citizens and staff will be able to view the new law until it is integrated into the correct section of your Code with your next supplement, at which point we will remove it from New Laws.
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