LYNNWOOD — Lynnwood University is a school like no other. Tuition is free. The textbook is free. The subject is city government in action.
How do police catch crooks? How do firefighters put out a fire? Who mows the lawn and pulls the weeds at city parks? Where does the water from your faucet come from? When you flush the toilet, where does that stuff go?
And how does the city pay for all of this?
Forty city residents are giving up a little time — nine weekly classes on Thursday evenings to be exact — to find out how their city works and hopefully have some fun doing it. This is the third year the city has hosted Lynnwood University.
City council president Loren Simmonds, who thought of the class about three years ago, also hopes the experience will inspire citizens to volunteer. Lynnwood, like any other city, relies on volunteers to keep costs down and get people involved. Students will find out several ways they can help if they want to.
“We hope this will be inspirational as well as educational,” Simmonds said. “The truth is if we have to pay minimum wage to all of our volunteers it would hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Simmonds got the idea while attending the Citizen’s Academy, a 12-week class about police work taught by the Lynnwood Police Department. Citizen’s Academy often attracts people who want to join Citizen’s Patrol, a cadre of police volunteers, or help the police in other ways.
“It is hard to compete with that because police work is sexy,” Simmonds said.
Lynnwood University is attracting an audience. City workers made room for about 60 people to attend this year’s Lynnwood University because they had to turn away some participants in 2003 and 2004, Dana said. That’s about twice as many seats offered for the last two years.
Each person has his or her own reason to be there. Chuck Whitley, the pastor of Lynnwood’s Hope Community Church, joined because he is looking for ways to help out and to learn about Lynnwood.
“We want Lynnwood to be a better city. My wife and I want to be the kind of people that makes Lynnwood a better city,” said Whitley, who moved into town about four years ago. “I am looking for a place to plug in.”
Becky Hoang, a 38-year-old mortgage broker, said wants to learn more about Lynnwood, especially for her business. Hoang is the mother of three children: Christopher, 5, Rachel, 2, and Jeffrey, 7 months old.
“I am thinking about opening branches of my business,” Hoang said. “I am also looking at buying more commercial property here.”
Mike Eckhart, 52-year-old Lynnwood electrician, is eager to get into the city’s inner workings so he can see where his tax dollars go and if there is a way to cut costs.
“We talk about the cost of cities and our taxes are too high,” Eckhart said. “As citizens, we need to find ways to lower those costs. What we do every day contributes or lessens our tax burden.”
Each week at Lynnwood University, city workers and elected officials will show students how and why a different city department works until Nov. 17. Students can take guided tours of the city jail, 911 call center, Heritage Park, Lynnwood Convention Center and wastewater treatment plant to name a few.
“Where else are you going to get to tour a wastewater treatment plant?” said Dana Trudy, who coordinates the police department’s community outreach. “It is really cool and it doesn’t smell that bad.”
A city’s purpose
For the first class, Assistant city manager Bill Malinen offered an overview of the city’s purpose, services, form of government and revenue sources. Lynnwood, which incorporated in 1959, is home to about 34,500 residents compared to about 28,000 people in 1990 and about 16,500 people in 1970.
The primary functions of a city include, but are not limited to:
• building and maintaining 105 miles of streets, 60 traffic signals and 1,900 street lights.
• disposing of garbage and wastewater, which includes treating about 5 million gallons of sewage each day.
• distributing about 3.3 million gallons of clean drinking water each day.
• generating and distributing electricity.
• managing population and development growth, which includes handling building permits and development plans.
• protecting people and property from fire, crime and other hazards.
• protecting the environment.
• providing 355 acres of parks and open space as well as recreation activities.
To keep the city running, city officials collect taxes. The city’s three largest sources of revenue are property taxes (22 percent), sales taxes (21 percent), and business and utility taxes (20 percent).
For every dollar of property tax collected, the city receives about 13 cents. The rest goes to schools (32 cents), state government (24 cents), county government (17 cents). The remainder is gathered by local agencies like the fire department, libraries, hospitals and other services.
At the end of the first class, city council members took turns explaining how the city council conducts meetings and passes laws. Lynnwood is a strong-mayor city, which means the city council sets policy. The mayor, who is the city’s chief administrator, manages day to day operations.
Anyone can attend or testify at a city council meeting or send a letter to the council. The city council’s weekly meetings are open to the public and agendas can be found on the city’s Web site, www.ci.lynnwood.wa.us, by calling City Hall at 425-775-1971 or at city hall, 19100 44th Ave. W. The meetings are also broadcasted on television.
Simmonds noted it is easier to make changes in city government than at the state or national level. For one thing, city council members are easier to contact and it is not uncommon for a citizen’s idea or petition to become law.
“If you want to make a difference and you want to get involved, the local level is where to do it.”