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Biennial Budgeting

This page provides information about biennial budgeting for cities, counties, and special purpose districts in Washington State, including relevant statutes, examples of biennial budget ordinances and planning calendars, and a list of cities and counties that use biennial budgets.

It is part of MRSC's series on Budgeting in Washington State.


Overview

Most cities, towns, and counties in Washington operate under an annual budget, but some budget on a biennial (two-year) basis.


Biennial Budgeting for Cities and Towns

Any cities and towns may begin budgeting on a biennial basis if desired (see Ch. 35A.34 RCW for code cities and Ch. 35.34 RCW for all other cities and towns). By statute, the biennial fiscal period must start on January 1 of an odd-numbered year and end on December 31 of the following even-numbered year.

Cities that budget on a biennial basis must adopt a budget no later than December 31 of the preceding even-numbered year. For detailed deadlines, procedures, and practice tips, see our pages on Budget Preparation Procedures for Cities and Towns and Budget Calendar for Cities and Towns.

In addition, the city or town must review and modify the budget sometime between September 1 and December 31 of the first (odd-numbered) year of the biennium (RCW 35.34.130/RCW 35A.34.130).

Adopting a Biennial Budget Process

Any city or town that currently budgets on an annual basis and wants to switch to a biennial budget process must pass an ordinance to that effect no later than June 30 of the preceding even-numbered year, six months before the beginning of the fiscal biennium (RCW 35A.34.040/RCW 35.34.040).

Reverting to an Annual Budget Process

Any city or town may revert to an annual budget process by repealing the ordinance that established the biennial process (RCW 35A.34.040/RCW 35.34.040). The repeal must take effect at the end of a fiscal biennium (December 31 of an even-numbered year); cities and towns may not abandon the biennial budget process halfway through the biennium. During the final (even-numbered) year of the biennium, the city or town would then prepare and adopt an annual budget to take effect January 1 of the following (odd-numbered) year.


Examples of City Biennial Budgets

Ordinances Adopting Biennial Budget Process

Ordinances Reverting to Annual Budget Process

  • Edmonds Ordinance No. 3793 (2010) – Reverting to annual budget process after just two years due to economic downturn and need to closely monitor and respond to financial situation
  • Sunnyside Ordinance No. 2012-18 (2012) – Reverting to annual budget process after just two years due to demands of mid-biennium adjustment process and significant annual increases in facility costs and labor contracts

Biennial Budget Calendars

​Biennial Budgets

Below are a few examples of city biennial budgets.

Mid-Biennium Adjustments


List of Cities with Biennial Budgets

Below is a list of cities that MRSC is currently aware of that adopt a biennial budget.

  • Anacortes
  • Arlington
  • Auburn
  • Bainbridge Island
  • Battle Ground
  • Bellevue
  • Bellingham
  • Bonney Lake
  • Bothell
  • Burien
  • Covington
  • DuPont
  • Federal Way
  • Fife
  • Gig Harbor
  • Hoquiam
  • Kelso
  • Kenmore
  • Kennewick
  • Kirkland
  • Lake Forest Park
  • Lakewood
  • Leavenworth
  • Longview
  • Lynnwood
  • Marysville
  • Mercer Island
  • Mill Creek
  • Mountlake Terrace
  • Normandy Park
  • Oak Harbor
  • Port Orchard
  • Poulsbo
  • Redmond
  • Renton
  • Sammamish
  • SeaTac
  • Shoreline
  • Stanwood
  • Steilacoom
  • Sumner
  • Tacoma
  • Tukwila
  • Tumwater
  • University Place
  • Vancouver
  • Walla Walla
  • West Richland
  • Woodinville
  • Yelm

Biennial Budgeting for Counties

Any county may adopt a biennial budget (RCW 36.40.250). Unlike cities, counties may start the biennium on January 1 of any year.

For detailed budget preparation deadlines, procedures, and practice tips, see our pages on Budget Preparation Procedures for Counties and Budget Calendar for Counties. In addition, each county adopting a biennial budget must provide for a mid-biennial budget review and modification for the second year of the budget cycle. The modification must be adopted by resolution or ordinance. No exact deadline is provided, but in practice the budget should be reviewed and modified by the end of the first year of the biennial budget cycle.

The statute also provides an option for counties to adopt a biennial budget for some funds – with the same mandatory mid-biennium adjustment – and an annual budget for others.

Adopting a Biennial Budget Process

Any county that currently budgets on an annual basis and wants to switch to a biennial budget process must pass a resolution or ordinance to that effect (RCW 36.40.250). Unlike cities, the county statute gives no indication of when this ordinance or resolution must be passed. Practically speaking, it probably needs to be done no later than April 1 so that the request for budget proposals to county officials and department heads can outline the change and allow sufficient time to prepare the estimates that are due to the auditor in August.

Reverting to an Annual Budget Process

Any county may revert to an annual budget process by repealing the ordinance that established the biennial process (RCW 36.40.250). The repeal must take effect at the end of a fiscal biennium; counties may not abandon the biennial budget process halfway through the biennium. During the final year of the biennium, the county would then prepare and adopt an annual budget to take effect January 1 of the following year.


Examples of County Biennial Budgets

Ordinances Adopting a Biennial Budget Process

  • Cowlitz County Odrinance No. 01-090 (2001) – Non-charter county switching to biennial budget beginning with 2002-2003 budget, with mid-biennium modification taking place between August 1 and December 31 of the first year.
  • King County – Charter county gradually implemented biennial budgeting over a period of more than 10 years, beginning with a charter amendment in 2002 and culminating with the adoption of the 2015-2016 budget.
    • Ordinance No. 14758 (2002) – Submitting proposed charter amendment to voters to allow biennial budgeting in an attempt to address structural budget deficits.
    • Ordinance No. 15545 (2006) – Authorizing the county to adopt biennial budgets for funds as determined by the county council. Includes staff report identifying key issues to consider regarding biennial budgeting.
    • Motion No. 12465 (2007) – Designating transit division as the pilot agency for biennial budgeting.
    • Motion No. 12941 (2009) – Extending pilot program to include entire transportation department; includes staff report.
    • Motion No. 13431 (2011) – Phasing in biennial budgeting for all remaining county departments over the next three biennia; includes staff report.
  • Kitsap County Ordinance No. 271-2002 (2002) – Non-charter county switching to biennial budget beginning with 2002-2003 budget, with mid-biennium modification concluding no later than the end of the first quarter of the second year.
  • Whatcom County Ordinance No. 2008-026 (2008) – Charter county switching to biennial budget process, with proposed mid-biennium modification due by the third week of October of the first year.

Biennial Budget Calendars

  • Cowlitz County Budget Preparation Calendar (2017) – Calendar for preparing initial biennial budget, culminating with the alternate budget hearing and adoption dates in December; does not include mid-biennium budget adjustment

Biennial Budgets


List of Counties with Biennial Budgets

Most counties use an annual budget; below is a list of counties that MRSC is currently aware of that adopt a biennial budget.

  • Benton County
  • Clark County
  • Cowlitz County
  • Pierce County (charter amendment adopted 2018)
  • King County
  • Whatcom County

Biennial Budgeting for Special Purpose Districts

Most special purpose district statutes are silent on the issue of biennial budgets. However, in 2015 the state legislature passed legislation authorizing fire districts to adopt biennial budgets:

If a district’s statutes require an annual budget and are silent on biennial budgets, the district must adopt an annual budget. For instance, the following districts all have annual budget requirements with no mention of a biennial budget:

However, if the district has no specific budgetary requirements in statute – such as a water-sewer district – it may adopt budget policies as a fiscal management tool (which would be considered a best practice) that could include a biennial budget process.


Examples of Special Purpose District Biennial Budgets


Recommended Resources


Last Modified: December 14, 2018