Gemeinde (municipality)is the smallest self-governing political unit in Austria. Its duties are divided into two spheres of activities, autonomous activities and transferred activities. The first group ("matters of self-government") is again divided into voluntary tasks and those prescribed by law (e.g. administration of the municipal property, collection of local taxes, founding and operating of business or industrial enterprises, aid and ambulance services, undertakers enterprises, maintenance of roads, streets, squares and bridges, establishing and running of schools). Transferred activities comprise duties entrusted by the Federal government (elections to the Nationalrat, census, housing, infant welfare, matters relating to the system of registration, registration of births, deaths and marriages).
Until 1849, when the relevant municipal law was passed (provisorisches Gemeinde-Gesetz), the landlords carried out the duties of the municipalities. Autonomy was granted to the princely towns and market towns and, to a limited extent, to towns that were part of a landlord´s estate. Local government laws are provincial laws based on the relevant national legislation (Reichsgemeindegesetz of 1862). In 1920 the provisions of the latter were given the status of a Bundesverfassungsgesetz (Federal Constitutional law). German municipal laws were in force from December 1, 1934 until 1945. In 1962 a new municipal law was passed.
Legally, big cities and small rural municipalities are on an equal footing (Orts-Gemeinde); only Chartered Cities and Towns have a higher status. Originally it was mostly historic considerations which were decisive for granting a town a charter of its own (e.g. Waidhofen an der Ybbs, Rust), but the law governing the status of municipalities (Gemeinde-Recht of 1962) provides that all municipalities with a population of more than 20,000 may obtain this status. The terms "Markt" (market town) and "Stadt" (town) are mere titles without legal significance.
Every municipality, together with its surrounding area, forms part of a court district and a political district. - Both nationality and the concept of "principal residence" of a citizen have legal significance in the municipalities, since the right to vote in the local government elections depends on these two factors.
The organs of a municipality are: 1) The municipal council (Gemeinde-Vertretung): has decision-making and supervisory powers, is elected by secret ballot, debates and decides on all matters relating to municipal property and other assets, draws up the budget, decides on the introduction of rates or supplementary charges, elects the mayor and the other members of the Gemeinde-Vorstand (inner circle of the Gemeinde-Vertretung) from among its members and supervises their management. 2) The Gemeinde-Vorstand (inner circle of the Gemeinde-Vertretung): elected by the Gemeinde-Vertretung from among its members, comprises the mayor, 1-3 deputies (vice-mayors) and other members and is the executive organ for the municipalities´ autonomous sphere.
3) The Mayor is the executive organ for the municipalities´ transferred sphere and carries out the duties indirectly transferred by the Federal administration.