At its March 28th meeting, the Port Orchard City Council passed a resolution declaring the City Council’s intention to adopt the classification of a Non Charter Code City for Port Orchard. If no timely and sufficient referendum petition has been filed, within 90 days, the City Council shall by ordinance adopt for Port Orchard the classification of Non Charter Code City under the Mayor / Council Plan of government.
In researching Code City status for Port Orchard, and in discussions I have had with various members of the community lately, I discovered a lack of understanding of the history of the organization, powers and duties of municipal government in Washington State. I offer this brief summary.
In 1890, the state legislature enacted legislation establishing four classes of municipal corporations: first, second and third class cities and fourth class municipalities (towns) based on population. In the same year, the legislature enacted statutes covering the organization, powers and duties of municipal government.
“Home Rule” powers were granted to first class cities. A population of 20,000 was required for the first class city designation. First class cities were given the authority to legislate with respect to local matters as the state would with statewide matters except where that power is expressly prohibited by the state constitution or by general law. Statutory and case law have held that statutes relating to first class cities are to be liberally interpreted.
The other classes of cities were given limited power. They had only the powers specifically provided by the state legislature. These municipal powers were to strictly construed.
By the mid sixties as the state urbanized, the legislature realized municipal governments needed greater powers to meet the local needs. In 1967 (effective July 1, 1969), legislation was enacted to give cities and towns the option to come under the provisions of RCW Title 35A (Optional Municipal Code.) The basic objective of this Code was to increase the ability of cities to cope with complex urban issues with statutory home rule, regardless of population.
The legislature has provided the Code City Option as the vehicle for municipalities to govern themselves. In other words, the state and the cities had grown up. Any unincorporated area having a population of at least 1,500 may incorporate as a code city, and any city or town may reorganize as a code city.
Port Orchard was platted in 1886 and became the first town in Kitsap County to incorporate in 1890. At that time, Port Orchard’s population gave it a fourth class city designation. As time went by, it moved from fourth class to second class, which by definition is a city with a population over 1,500 that does not operate as a code city.
Port Orchard has had the designation of a second class city and operated under RCW35.23. The most recent significant update to RCW35.23 was in 1994 – over 20 years ago. The legislature is no longer actively managing this section of code.
There are 281 cities in Washington State. About 10 are first class cities, about 65 are very small and are classified as towns and about 7 are second class cities. I say about because classifications may have changed from the list I counted. That leaves 199 code cities.
An excellent resource for more information about city classifications can be found on the MRSC website at http://mrsc.org/Home/Explore-Topics/Governance/Classification-of-Washington-Cities/City-and-Town-Classification-Overview.aspx.