City and Town Classification Overview
Municipal governments in Washington are classified according to their population at the time of organization (usually incorporation) or reorganization. Currently there are 281 cities and towns in Washington, comprised of 10 first class cities, 9 second class cities, 70 towns, 191 code cities (190 noncharter code cities and 1 [Kelso] charter code city), and one unclassified city (Waitsburg operates under a territorial charter).
A first class city is a city with a population of 10,000 or more at the time of organization or reorganization that has adopted a charter. RCW 35.01.010.
A second class city is a city with a population over 1,500 at the time of organization or reorganization that does not have a charter and does not operate as a code city under the optional municipal code. RCW 35.01.020.
A town has a population of less than 1,500 at the time of its organization and does not operate under the optional municipal code. RCW 35.01.040. As a result of some 1994 statutory amendments, the threshold population required to incorporate as a city is now 1,500, up from 300. RCW 35.02.010. Since a new city cannot be formed unless it has 1,500 inhabitants, no areas may now incorporate to form a new town.
Optional Municipal Code
Created in 1967, the Optional Municipal Code (Title 35A RCW) provides an alternative to the basic statutory classification system of municipal government. It was designed to provide broad statutory home rule authority in matters of local concern. Any unincorporated area having a population of at least 1,500 may incorporate as an optional muncipal code or "code city," and any city or town may reorganize as a code city. Optional municipal code cities with populations over 10,000 may also adopt a charter.