A municipal corporation or county can make public improvements, establish public utilities, and provide public services. Such activities come under the discretionary powers exercised by such authorities.
Municipal duties such as construction, improvement, and maintenance of public parks, swimming pools, or merry-go-rounds for public recreation involve an exercise of sovereign governmental functions[i]. Therefore, a municipal corporation’s power to construct, maintain, and operate necessary facilities for public recreation is a sovereign function and this is implicit in its power to provide municipal services[ii].
The legislature may also impose a duty upon a municipal corporation to undertake and maintain improvements of a governmental nature. However, a municipal corporation cannot be compelled to undertake public improvements that are not governmental in nature[iii]. For instance, a legislature cannot compel a municipal corporation to purchase any goods or render any services that are of no use to them.
However, local convenience and public utility services such as water and light are not provided by municipal corporations in their governmental capacity. Basically, such services are provided under their quasi-private capacity, where they exclusively act for the benefit of their citizens[iv]. Generally, the authority of a municipal corporation to construct public facilities is given statutory support. This is to restrict the competition between a municipal corporation and a private enterprise.
Funds raised by a municipal corporation through taxation can be used for internal improvement works carried on and controlled by a municipal corporation’s official in areas that are located within their border. Municipal corporations can also construct a municipal plant or utility system with federal agency aid without any general supervision of the project by the federal authority. In such cases, the municipal corporation must abide by the federal regulations governing the construction, maintenance, and operation of a municipal public utility.
[i] Oien v. Sioux Falls, 393 N.W.2d 286 (S.D. 1986).
[ii] Cleveland v. Cuyahoga Heights, 81 Ohio App. 191 (Ohio Ct. App., Cuyahoga County 1947).
[iii] In re Orosi Public Utility Dist., 196 Cal. 43 (Cal. 1925).
[iv] Williamson v. High Point, 213 N.C. 96 (N.C. 1938).