El Salvador is divided into fourteen administrative divisions called departments, the equivalent of states in the United States. Each department is administered by a governor appointed by the president. An alternate for each governor is also designated. Governors must be Salvadoran by birth, over twenty-five years of age, and residents of their department for at least two years prior to their appointment.
Below the departmental level, El Salvador is divided into 261 municipalities (or municipios, the equivalent of counties in the United States). Each municipio is governed by a municipal council composed of a mayor (alcalde), a legal representative (sindico), and two or more council members (regidores). The number of regidores is determined by the population of the municipio. Members of the municipal councils must be more than twenty-one years of age and residents of the municipio in which they serve. Directly elected, municipal officials serve three-year terms and may be reelected. Municipios are not all of equal size but are required to have a population of at least 10,000; municipal boundaries are determined by the Legislative Assembly.
The powers of local government are circumscribed by those of the central government. Because department governers are appointed by the president, their independence is questionable. Despite their status as elected representatives, the powers of municipal officeholders are also limited in certain key areas. The most glaring example is taxation. Although the municipal councils are allowed to suggest local taxes and tax rates, only the Legislative Assembly has the power to actually levy taxes. Therefore, all funds utilized by the councils are appropriated and disbursed by the assembly, although such funds are earmarked in the budget and are not incorporated into the central government's general fund. Among the duties relegated to the municipal councils under the Salvadoran Municipal Code are the holding of town meetings (cabildos abiertos) at least once every three months. The council is enjoined from acting against the majority opinion expressed at the cabildos abiertos. The municipal councils also grant legal recognition (personalidad juridica) to communal associations in their municipios. The councils are required to meet periodically with representatives of the communal associations and to consult with them on the appointment of representatives to advisory and other local commissions. The councils also issue local ordinances and regulations.
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