Government Terminology

The language of local government

This list of definitions and acronyms provides easy-to-understand explanations of words, phrases, terms and acronyms commonly used in local government that may not be familiar to citizens or newly elected or appointed municipal officials.


ad hoc  for a particular purpose, for a limited time
ad valorem tax  a tax levied on the assessed value of real property
affidavit – a written statement made under oath
agenda – an outlined plan of an entire business meeting
amendment – a change or addition that changes the meaning or scope of an original formal document, usually laws or regulations, but can include plans, specifications, contracts, etc.
annexation – the process by which a municipality, upon meeting certain requirements, expands its incorporated limits
appropriation – a sum of money authorized by a legislative body to be spent for a specific purpose
aquifer  an underground bed or stratum of earth, gravel or porous stone that contains water


berm – a mound of earth used to shield and buffer uses such as parking areas; also serves to control the direction of water flow and acts as a dam
block – a tract of land bounded by dedicated streets
bond – an interest bearing certificate issued by a government or business, redeemable on a specific date; used as a measure of raising funds for capital improvements
budget (capital) – a spending plan for improvements and acquisitions of significant value and a useful life of more than one year such as buildings, roads, equipment, etc.
budget (operating) – a comprehensive financial plan to sustain municipal operations during a given year, with related explanation
buffer – a strip of land, vegetation and/or opaque wall that sufficiently minimizes the physical or visual intrusion generated by an existing or future use


capital improvement – a government acquisition of real property, major construction project, or acquisition of long-lasting, expensive equipment
certificate of participation – financing in which an individual buys a share of the lease revenues of an agreement made by a municipal or governmental entity, rather than the bond being secured by those revenues
certified copy – a certified extract of an official record sealed by the appropriate government official (City Clerk or Deputy Clerk)
chair – the presiding officer
charrette – a creative, intense work session with public workshops & open houses
charter – a written instrument that creates and defines powers, rights and privileges for a specific jurisdiction or organization; a city’s constitution
chicane – a traffic-calming device
code – a systematic statement of a body of law given by statutory authority
collective bargaining – negotiations by an organized group to procure an employment agreement for such items as wages, benefits and working conditions 
comprehensive plan – the basic foundation for local planning; it lays out a community’s vision and priorities, and describes where, how, and in some cases when development will occur
condemnation – the process of taking private property for public use through the power of eminent domain
conflict of interest – a term used in connection with a public official’s relationship to matters of private interest or personal gain and on which the official must abstain from voting
consensus – quality or condition of being in mutual agreement
consent agenda – a policy of the governing body to approve, in one motion, routine and/or non-controversial items, as determined prior to the meeting; a Councilmember may request that any item be removed for a separate discussion
contiguous – sharing a common boundary
contingency – an appropriation of funds to handle unexpected events and emergencies that occur during the course of the fiscal year
culvert – a ditch or conduit not incorporated in a closed system that carries drainage water under a driveway, roadway, railroad or pedestrian walk
custodian of records – any authorized person having personal custody, maintenance and control of public records


debt service – payments to creditors, primarily the holders of municipal bonds; debt service includes principal, interest, and minor incidentals such as paying agents’ fees
development plan – specific guidelines, requirements or policies for planned growth


easement – an interest in land owned by another that entitles its holder to a specific limited use
eminent domain – the legal power of a government to expropriate private property for the sake of public necessity
enterprise fund – used to account for operations that provide goods or services to the general public on a user-charge basis


findings of fact – determinations from the evidence of a case either by the court or an administrative agency, concerning facts alleged by one party and denied by another
foreclosure – procedure by which property is sold to satisfy a lien
franchise – a privilege granted by government approval to an individual or firm to market goods or services in a particular area, generally for an extended period
franchise fee – a percent of profit to the grantor of the franchise


general fund – the general operating fund of the municipality used to account for all financial resources except those required to be accounted for in a special fund
general obligation bond – a financial instrument giving borrowing power to a municipality, based upon the pledging of taxing power to retire the debt and pay interest


impact fees – set-aside fees collected from citizens and developers for infrastructure adjustments to the community; monies to be used as the development further impacts the municipality


lien – a claim or charge on property for payment of debt, obligation or duty
line item – a specific item or group of similar items defined by detail in a unique account in the financial records; revenue, expenditure and justifications are reviewed, anticipated and appropriated at this level
lis pendens – legal notice that a lawsuit is pending
lot – a portion or parcel of land considered as a legal unit


master plan – a comprehensive long-range plan intended to guide the growth and development of a community or region and one that includes analysis, recommendations and proposals for the community’s population, economy, housing, transportation, community facilities and land use
metes and bounds – a method of describing the boundaries of land by direction and distance from a known point of reference
mill – a term used to express the property tax rate
minutes – a written summary of actions taken at a meeting and the vote on each item
municipality – a political unit having corporate status and, usually, powers of self-government


ordinance – an enforceable municipal law, statute or regulation that applies to all citizens within that municipality; penalty provisions may apply


performance bond – bond from a contractor that guarantees the work/services will be performed in accordance with the contract
planned unit development (PUD) – a device that allows a development to be planned and built as a unit
plat – a map representing a tract of land, showing the boundaries and location of individual properties and streets
public hearing – provides citizens the opportunity to express their position on a specific issue, both pro and con, as mandated either by statute or by order of proper authority after due notice
public meeting – any meeting of a governmental body at which public business is discussed or decided or policy formulated
public record – any record retained by a government body as further defined by statute and open to inspection


quasi-judicial – referring to the actions of a governmental entity in which there are hearings, orders, judgments or other activities similar to those conducted by courts
quorum – the prescribed number of members of any body that must be present to legally transact business; the quorum is a majority of all members unless the bylaws state otherwise


resolution – a decision, opinion, policy or directive of a municipality expressed in a formally drafted document and voted upon
revenue bonds – bonds sold for which the principal and interest are payable exclusively from the earnings of a specific revenue source and which do not pledge the property credit or general tax revenue of a city
revenues – monies received or anticipated by a local government from either tax or non-tax sources
rezone – to change the zoning classification of particular lots or parcels of land
right-of-way – a strip of land owned by a government agency over which the public has right of passage such as streets, parkways, medians, sidewalks, easements and driveways constructed thereon


section – a piece of land one square mile in area
site plan – a plan, to scale, showing uses and structures proposed for a parcel of land
sole source – an award for supplies or services without competitive bidding when only one source is available
special assessment district (SAD) – a district where the cost of improvements provided by bond proceeds are assessed against property owners benefited by the improvements
special exception – involves a use that is not permitted outright, but may be permitted, with or without conditions, when approved by City Council
statute – a law enacted by the legislative branch of the state or federal government
subdivision – the division of a single tract or other parcel of land into two or more lots (Specific definitions will vary in specific ordinances or regulations)
sunshine law – legislation providing that all meetings of public bodies shall be open to the public (open public meetings law)
survey – the process by which a parcel of land is measured and its boundaries and contents ascertained
swale – a depression in the ground that channels runoff


table – to suspend consideration of a pending legislative bill or measure
tax increment financing – funding from net increases in real property tax revenues within a community redevelopment area established pursuant to state statute
tract – a parcel of land, generally held for subdividing


variance – an exception to certain development standards such as setbacks, building height, lot dimensions and other zoning code requirements


zone – a specifically delineated area or district in a municipality within which there are regulations for the use, placement spacing, and size of land and buildings

Acronyms and abbreviations

ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act
ADT – Average Daily Traffic
AG – Attorney General

CAFR – Comprehensive Annual Financial Report
CDBG – Community Development Block Grant
CDD – Community Development District
CERT – Citizens Emergency Response Team
CILB – Construction Industry Licensing Board
CIP – Capital Improvement Program
CMC – Certified Municipal Clerk
CO – Certificate of Occupancy
COBRA – Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act
COP – Certificate of Participation
COPS – Community Oriented Policing Services
CRA – Community Redevelopment Agency

DBPR – Department of Business and Professional Regulations
DCA – Department of Community Affairs
DEP – Department of Environmental Protection
DRI – Development of Regional Impact
DROP – Deferred Retirement Option Plan
DROW – Drainage Right-of-Way

EDC – Economic Development Council
EOC – Emergency Operations Center
EIS – Environmental Impact Statement
EPA – Environmental Protection Agency
ERC – Equivalent Residential Connection
ERU – Equivalent Residential Unit

FDEP – Florida Department of Environmental Protection
FDOT – Florida Department of Transportation
FEMA – Federal Emergency Management Agency
FPUA – Fort Pierce Utility Authority
FRDAP – Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program

GASB – Governmental Accounting Standards Board
GFOA – Governmental Finance Officers Association
GIS – Geographic Information System
GO – General Obligation

HIPAA – Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act
HUD – Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (federal)

IJR – Interchange Justification Report
ISTEA – Intermodal Surface Transportation & Efficiency Act

JPA – Joint Participation Agreement or Joint Planning Agreement

LAP – Local Agency Program

MIS – Management Information Services
MMC – Master Municipal Clerk
MPA – Metropolitan Planning Area
MPO – Metropolitan Planning Organization
MSA – Municipal Service Area or Metropolitan Statistical Area or Medical Savings Account
MSBU – Municipal Services Benefit Unit
MSTU – Municipal Special Taxing Unit

NPDES – National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
NRCS – National Resource Conservation Service

OMB – Office of Management & Budget

PD&E – Plan, Design & Engineering Study
PSA – Police Service Aide
PUD – Planned Unit Development

RFI – Request for Information
RFP – Request for Proposal
RFQ – Request for Quote
ROW – Right-of-Way
RPC – Regional Planning Commission
RTC – Resolution Trust Company