†††† City Services and Operation Lessons


City Services and Operation Lessons

Prepared by: Mike Ericson (Lead) and Bob Therres


This lesson plan represents a comprehensive look at City government, beginning with what services cities provide, and ending with who is responsible for administering these services.The goal of this plan is to provide students with an understanding of what cities do, and who does it.All too often cities are overlooked as forms of government. The majority of peopleís attention is focused on national and statewide governments.In reality the form of government that will ultimately have the most effect on the average personís life is city government.Therefore it is important that people, and particularly students of government in general, be exposed to what services cities provide, and how they are operated.


Lesson #1 Determining What Services Cities Provide


The goal of the first lesson is to get students to understand what services government agencies provide, specifically what services cities provide.The lesson would begin by having students brainstorm as many different government services they can think of.With a little help from the teacher, a comprehensive list of services can be compiled.Using this list, as a foundation the next step would be to highlight which level of government provides each service.Ultimately this will provide a student generated list of city services, as well as an understanding of how different levels of government inter-relate.


Lesson one serves a couple of purposes, it gets students thinking about what government really does, it fosters a discussion about the different levels/entities of governments, and it also provides a student created/teacher guided list of city services that can be used as a foundation for the rest of the lessons.


Lesson #2Grouping Services by Type and Determining why City Provides Service


The second lesson is largely an extension of the first lesson.The idea of lesson two is to have the students take their list of city services and break them down into specific categories, such as public works, or community development etc.The goal of this portion of the lesson is to boil the complete list of city services into categories that summarize the core functions cities perform.The categories would be provided to the students, who would then discuss which category specific services would fall under.


The second portion of this lesson is to foster a discussion of why government provides these services, and specifically why they are controlled on a local level.The reason government provides certain services is relatively self-explanatory, but students may not understand, or have not really thought about reasons for requiring building permits, for example.Lesson two is designed to educate the student about the core functions that cities perform, as well as provide them with insight towards why they are performed.


Lesson #3 City Budgets. Who gets what, and where does it come from?


The purpose of the third lesson is to introduce students to public finance, and to highlight how cities pay for the services they provide.This lecture would introduce students to the funding mechanisms used by cities to cover their cost of doing business.The lesson would explain how property taxes are determined and implemented, it would cover enterprise/utility funds, and it would describe some of the miscellaneous fees charged by cities, such as parkland dedication.


The primary funding mechanism for cities is property tax, thus the main emphasis of this lecture would be on how property tax is calculated and implemented. This lecture would illustrate how each residentís property tax dollar is split among counties, cities, and school districts. Finally this lesson will illustrate the importance of, and city reliance on property taxes as their main source of funding, which account for approximately 75% of city revenue.


This lesson would focus on both the revenue, and expense side of City budgets.Students will be exposed to both, where cities receive their revenues from, and what they spend them on.Excerpts from the City of Applevilleís annual Truth in Taxation (TnT) budget hearing will be used to illustrate the revenues and expenses in a pie chart format.The use of excerpts from Applevilleís budget will be instrumental in this lesson, because they will allow students to understand how revenues are directly tied to expenses, and what decisions need to be made in distributing these funds.The budget documents will help illustrate to the students exactly what services cities provide; adding further credibility to the student created list.


Guest Speaker Option: City Finance Director and/or City Administrator


Lesson #4 Who makes budget decisions?How are Cities Organized?


This is the final portion of this section.Up to this point students have been exposed to what services cities provide and how they pay for them, but there has not been any mention of who runs cities and ultimately makes budget decisions.The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the roles of elected city officials and city professional staff.


Students may possess some knowledge of the role of city council members, however; they may not have any knowledge of the roles of the professional staff of a city.The goal of this lesson is to introduce students to the roles of city council members and professional staff, how they interact with each other, and how they work together to provide city services.


Since students will have a better idea of how corporations run, the best way to start maybe by comparing the organizational structure of corporations with the organizational structure of cities.The easy correlations to make are that, Board of Directors = City Council, and CEO = City Administrator etc.This exercise would expose the students to how cities are structured and how they operate similar to businesses.Additionally, this lesson would also provide an opportunity to illustrate the difference between cities and business; in particular what makes the administration of a city uniquely different than the administration of a business.


This site is being developed and maintained by the Urban & Regional Studies Institute (URSI) at Minnesota State University, Mankato as a service to the Minnesota City/County Management Association.

Created 2004 A.J.Filipovitch
Revised 29 December 04