A municipal corporation is the legal term for a local governing body, including (but not necessarily limited to) cities, counties, towns, townships, charter townships, villages, and boroughs. The term can also be used to describe municipally-owned enterprises.
Municipal corporations are by definition incorporated, in contrast to unincorporated areas.
Municipal incorporation occurs when such municipalities become self-governing entities under the laws of the state or province in which they are located. Often, this event is marked by the award or declaration of a municipal charter. A city charter or town charter (generically, municipal charter) is a legal document establishing a municipality such as a city or town. The concept developed in Europe during the Middle Ages and is considered to be a municipal version of a constitution. With the notable exceptions of the City of London Corporation and the Laugharne Corporation, the term has fallen out of favour in the United Kingdom, but the concept remains central to local government in the United Kingdom, as well as former British colonies such as Canada and India.
In Canada charters are granted by provincial authorities.
The title "corporation" was used in boroughs from soon after the Norman conquest until the Local Government Act 2001. Under the 2001 act, county boroughs were renamed "cities" and their corporations became "city councils"; other borough corporations were renamed "borough councils". Prior to 2001 "city council" or "borough council" referred only to the elected councillors as an assembly, while the "corporation" was the corporate body over which the council presided.
After the Partition of Ireland, the corporations in the Irish Free State were Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford (county boroughs) and Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo, Clonmel, and Wexford (non-county boroughs). Dún Laoghaire gained borough status in 1930 as "The Corporation of Dun Laoghaire".Galway's borough status, lost in 1840, was restored in 1937; it was formally styled "the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Galway", but referred to as "the Corporation".
In the United States, such municipal corporations are established by charters that are granted either directly by a state legislature by means of local legislation, or indirectly under a general municipal corporation law, usually after the proposed charter has passed a referendum vote of the affected population.
Under the enterprise meaning of the term, municipal corporations are "organisations with independent corporate status, managed by an executive board appointed primarily by local government officials, and with majority public ownership." Some MOCs rely on revenue from user fees, distinguishing them from agencies and special districts funded through taxation, although this is not always the case. Municipal corporation follows a process of externalization that requires new skills and orientations from the respective local governments, and follow common changes in the institutional landscape of public services. They are argued to be more efficient than bureaucracy but have higher failure rates because of their legal and managerial autonomy.