There are 281 cities in the U.S. state of Washington. State law determines the various powers its municipalities have.
Legally, a city in Washington can be described primarily by its class. There are five classes of cities in Washington:
- First class cities (3.6% of cities in the state),
- Second class cities (5.3%),
- Towns (26.7%),
- Unclassified cities (one city), and
- Code cities (64.1%).
First class cities are cities with a population over 10,000 at the time of reorganization and operating under a home rule charter. They are permitted to perform any function specifically granted them by Title 35 RCW (Revised Code of Washington). Among them are Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Vancouver, and Yakima.
Second class cities are cities with a population over 1,500 at the time of reorganization and operating without a home rule charter. Like first class cities, they are permitted to perform any function specifically granted them by Title 35 RCW. Among them are Port Orchard, Normandy Park, Sedro-Woolley, and Colville.
Towns are municipalities with a population of under 1,500 at the time of reorganization. Towns are not authorized to operate under a charter. Like the previously listed cities, they are permitted to perform any function specifically granted them by Title 35 RCW. Among them are Steilacoom, Mattawa, Friday Harbor, Eatonville, and Waterville. In 1994, the legislature made 1,500 the minimum population required to incorporate--therefore, no new towns may be incorporated in Washington.
Unclassified cities are cities which are not operating under any other class. Only one city--Waitsburg, in Walla Walla County--is unclassified. It operates under the 1881 territorial charter under which it was organized, eight years before Washington was admitted to the Union in 1889.
Code cities were created by the state legislature in order to grant the greatest degree of local control to municipalities possible under the state constitution and general law. This classification has been adopted by the majority of municipalities in Washington, including Renton, Bellevue, Olympia, Longview, and Pullman.
Code cities (shorthand for optional municipal code cities, as encoded by Title 35A RCW) are authorized to perform any function not specifically denied them in the state constitution or by state law. They may perform any function granted to any other city classification under Title 35 RCW.
A city in Washington State can be described secondarily by its form of government. Cities and towns are specifically authorized three forms of government:
- Commission (one city),
- Mayor-Council (80.8% of cities in the state), and
- Council-Manager (18.9%).
The city of Shelton is the only one still using the three-member commission form of government.
Most cities in Washington have this form of government, which calls for an elected mayor and an elected city council, including Seattle, Spokane, Kent, Everett, Bremerton, and Bellingham.
Cities with an elected council and appointed city manager include Yakima, Vancouver, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Kennewick.
In addition, code cities (see above), if their population is over 10,000, may incorporate as charter code cities. They may then "set out any plan of government deemed 'suitable for the good government of the city'" (RCW 35A.08.050), which need not be a commission, mayor-council, or council-manager form. No charter code city in Washington has done this as of 2004.
- Title 35 RCW (governing all cities) (http://www.leg.wa.gov/rcw/index.cfm?fuseaction=title&title=35)
- Title 35A RCW (governing code cities) (http://www.leg.wa.gov/rcw/index.cfm?fuseaction=title&title=35A)
- Municipal Research & Services Center of Washington (http://www.mrsc.org/cityprofiles/citylist.aspx)