Grade K-2, 3-5

Who Pays for City Hall?

Updated: October 19 2017,
Author: Mickey Ebert

The students take a virtual field trip to City Hall in this kid-friendly site. This beginning civics/economic lesson will introduce your students to city government and teach economics on the way!


parkPeople in our communities like to have parks, police and fire protection, streets, community centers, and many other services and other features that cities provide. But who pays for all of these? We do!

This lesson introduces students to city government: What does a city government do? Then it introduces the question of cost: Who pays for city government services?

The students should have a conceptual understanding of goods and services before this lesson.

Learning Objectives

  • Discover that city governments provide goods and services by collecting taxes from citizens.

Resource List

  • Field Trip: Click on either a Picture Tour or an Animated Tour of City Hall and let's see what a City Hall does.   PowerPoint | pdf File
  • City Hall Activity: This interactive activity will assess students understanding of how city hall works.   Interactive Activity
  • Letter to the Mayor:  Have students write a letter to the mayor addressing ideas to improve their town. An example of a letter to the Mayor is available on the Scholastic website.


Ask the students (before going to the website):

  1. What makes your city a good place to live in? [Answers will vary.]
  2. Would your city be a nice place if it didn't have any parks?
  3. What if your city did not have police or fire services?

    • How would fires be put out?
    • How would people be protected?

?Who decides how many parks are right for your city? Who decides how many fire stations or police stations your city will have? Who decides how many streets there are, or how to clear the streets of snow, or what to do with animals that may run loose in the streets? Who decides where a traffic light should go? Who takes care of the parks?

It might surprise your students to know that people who live in cities have a city government that does all those things and more! Your students might already know a little bit about city government, but have they ever stopped to think who PAYS for all those things to happen? We do! Every time you buy a good or service, you pay a tax to the store that sells that good or service. That is a sales tax. Some of that money goes to your city hall to pay for goods and services the city provides. Your parents also pay a portion of the money they earn from their jobs to the city government. This is called an income tax.

Let's go on a virtual field trip to a city hall and see who does what. Then let's talk about whoLight pays for all of those services. Go to the field trip powerpoint and for a tour of City Hall and let's see what a City Hall does.

After the tour, make a list titled Goods and Services. Then ask the children to identify goods and services supplied by their city government. [The goods list might include streets, parks, swimming pools, recycling bins, traffic lights, buses, libraries, etc. The services list might include animal control, emergency services, maintenance of parks, trash collection, etc.]

Do these things cost money? [Yes.] Does the city have to buy traffic lights? [Yes.] Does the city have to pay people to clean up parks, be lifeguards at the swimming pool, buy books for the library? [Yes.]

Where does the city get the money to buy all those things? [Most cities have taxes.] Why isn't there a business that builds and runs city parks? [They would have to charge a fee to use it.] Do you agree that a city park is for everyone? [Yes.] Do you believe that everyone should be able to check out a book at a library? [Yes.] Do you believe that everyone should be able to drive down streets? [Yes.]

If these things were owned by PRIVATE companies, we would be charged a fee for using them. What if you could not afford to pay the fee? [You could not use them.] Could you keep someone from using a street light? [No.] Would you want some drivers using the stoplights and some people not using them? [No.]

field trip

That is why our government provides some things for EVERYONE. The city governments pay for these using the money from taxes everyone pays.

Taxes are used to pay for goods and services the city provides. There are fees that the government collects that are also used for goods and services. Fees, such as licenses, are another source of money for the goods and services provided by the city.


The City Hall site explained what City Hall is, who works there, what they do, and who pays them to do these jobs. This lesson showed who pays the people at City Hall to do their jobs.

Extension Activity

Encourage your students to be active members of their communities. Brainstorm ideas that can help improve the entire community. Ideas can include a new park or community center, a new public library, programs to help the homeless and underserved neighborhoods, activities for the young or elderly, etc. Then start a letter-writing campaign in your class, grade, or school to your mayor. This will also provide an opportunity to teach how to write a business letter. An example of a letter to the mayor is available on the Scholastic website.