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We have a county owned 60 ft. wide right-of-way (ROW) contiguous to our city limits and we'd like to annex this ROW into our city for ownership, management, and maintenance purposes. The county agrees. What type of process is required?
Reviewed: 02/20

The easiest way to proceed would be through the use of RCW 35A.21.210:

(1) The governing bodies of a county and any code city located therein may by agreement revise any part of the corporate boundary of the city which coincides with the centerline, edge, or any portion of a public street, road or highway right-of-way by substituting therefor a right-of-way line of the same public street, road or highway so as fully to include or fully to exclude that segment of the public street, road or highway from the corporate limits of the city.
(2) The revision of a corporate boundary as authorized by this section shall become effective when approved by ordinance of the city council and by ordinance or resolution of the county legislative authority. Such a boundary revision is not subject to potential review by a boundary review board.

For non-code cities and towns, there is a comparable provision at RCW 35.21.790.

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Does a job description have to be formally approved by the city council?
Reviewed: 02/20

For a mayor-council code city, state law gives the city council the authority “to define the functions, powers, and duties of its officers and employees.” Although the city council could delegate the authority to the mayor, state laws give the authority to approve job descriptions to the city council.

RCW 35A.11.020 provides in relevant part:

The legislative body of each code city shall have power to organize and regulate its internal affairs within the provisions of this title and its charter, if any; and to define the functions, powers, and duties of its officers and employees. [emphasis added]

RCW 35A.12.090 provides, in part:

All appointments of city officers and employees shall be made on the basis of ability and training or experience of the appointees in the duties they are to perform, from among persons having such qualifications as may be prescribed by ordinance or by charter. [emphasis added]

If the city wants to give the mayor more authority in modifying job descriptions, one option is for the council to set the job description “qualifications” in a manner that is rather broadly defined and then leave it to the mayor to develop position descriptions that are consistent with those qualifications.

Practically, both the council and the mayor have an important role in establishing position descriptions, but the council has the authority to define the job descriptions and the mayor has the ultimate authority over who will be hired or terminated.

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What is the County Sheriff’s responsibility to respond to calls within the city when the city police department is unable to provide coverage?
Reviewed: 02/20

The sheriff serves the entire county, including each city and town. The RCWs that describe the sheriff’s duties are not limited to the unincorporated parts of the county. There is an attorney general opinion to that effect, AGO 1990 No. 4. Here is a summary of that opinion:

  1. The county sheriff's duty to enforce state law applies equally in incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county.
  2. If a city is unable to provide for adequate police protection, the county sheriff must take this factor into account in allocating the resources of the sheriff's office. However, the statutes do not obligate the sheriff to provide a city with a specific number of police officers or a specific level of police services.
  3. If a city wants to obtain a specific number of county police officers or level of police services, the Interlocal Cooperation Act empowers the city to contract with the county to provide those services.
  4. That is the problem if the city does not have its own police force, or there is no 24-hour coverage. The sheriff can be looked to for law enforcement services, but the level of service provided is up to the sheriff, not the city.

Obviously, the sheriff deputies will respond to serious crimes within the city, but they may not provide patrol or take action for certain types of violations. The only way the city can assure the level of service it desires is to have its own police force or to contract with the county for the required services.

If the city’s budget is such that it can no longer have its own police force, the sheriff will provide services without the city having to make payment. But, as indicated above, there is no assurance of the level of service that will be provided. Presumably the level of service will be dependent upon how much police activity is occurring at a given time. The only way the city can be more certain about coverage is to contract with the sheriff. The process will ultimately come down to the negotiations between the city and the county, how much the city is willing to pay, and how much the county wants for its services.

(Link to this question)

Can you direct me to where I would find information on Washington State records retention requirements for code enforcement files--both paper case files as well as electronic files?
Reviewed: 01/20

The applicable retention periods are set forth in the Local Government Common Records Retention Schedule (CORE). Records related to code enforcement action typically have a retention period of 6 years after the matter is resolved or closed. See DAN GS2012-026, CORE p. 31.

The six year retention period applies to the city’s primary copies of the records regardless of whether they are in electronic or paper format.

Records that are duplicate or secondary copies of the city’s primary copies may be destroyed when they are no longer needed for city business. See DAN GS50-02-04, Rev. 2 (CORE Schedule p. 163).

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Would dedication of right of way (ROW) through a parcel create separate lots?
Reviewed: 01/20

It's our position that, unless the city would own the property underlying the right-of-way (ROW) in fee (which is not your typical scenario), then a ROW bisecting a lot would not result in two lots being created. We are not aware of any case law authority for the proposition that establishing a ROW (whether opened as a road or not) across undivided property serves to split that property into two lots. A ROW itself is only an easement (in most cases) and does not carry with it fee title to the underlying property. See, e.g., Christian v. Purdy, 60 Wn. App. 798, 801(1991). See also our blog post: Understanding Municipal Rights-of-Way: From Centerline to Edge (Part 1).

Property can be divided in this state only through the subdivision process in chapter 58.17 RCW or through one of the exceptions to the subdivision process in RCW 58.17.040. If a right-of-way is established through the middle (or any portion) of a lot, the property would remain as one lot and a short plat would be necessary to divide the lot into two, one on each side of the right-of-way (though with the boundary line through the center of the right-of-way).

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Can a city acquire property through adverse possession?
Reviewed: 01/20

If a city can establish all the elements of adverse possession, it can obtain property in that manner. We have consistently advised that a city may do so and we have also noted that cities may acquire prescriptive easements. The decision in Aylmore v. Seattle, 100 Wash. 515 (1918), supports our advice with respect to adverse possession. We have also cited McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, §§ 28.15 and 30.21 for the proposition that a city can acquire property by adverse possession.

We have provided the following advice as to acquisition of a prescriptive easement:

It is clear in this state that public highways over private property may be acquired by prescription. See the cases of Todd v. Sterling, 45 Wn.2d 40 (1960) and Northwest Cities Gas Co. v. Western Fuel Co., 13 Wn.2d 75 (1942).

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Is there a conflict with Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) members voting to support their organization’s application?
Reviewed: 01/20

It's our opinion that LTAC members may participate in voting on funding of activities they are specifically involved with. Although that would appear to present a conflict of interest situation, that conflict is, in our opinion, impliedly authorized by the language in RCW 67.28.1817(1) providing that at least two members of the committee be "persons involved in activities authorized to be funded by revenue received under this chapter." Also, the committee is advisory only, and it is the council that makes the actual decision on the use of the funds.

So, although there is no specific legal authority (AGO or court decision) on this issue, we think it's okay for the members to vote in such circumstances.

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I know there is an RCW requirement that a public works contract needs to utilize a small works roster. Is there a similar requirement for consultants? Is there a similar requirement for architectural & engineering services (besides the requirements stated)?
Reviewed: 01/20

If the city wants to use a small works roster (for public works projects under $350k), it can elect to do so pursuant to RCW 39.04.155. This is an optional process. If the city elects not to use the small works roster, then a formal competitive bid process must be followed if the project exceeds applicable bid limits. Effective July 28, 2019, ESSB 5418 increased the day labor/bid limits for code cities, second class cities, and towns to $75,500 (single craft) and $116,155 (multiple craft).

If the project is below applicable bid limits, a city may use the small works roster or a minimal competition process. For more on this, see our Find your Contracting Requirements Tool.

For cities, there is no statutory requirement for bidding for services (which would include consultants). This process is expected to be outlined in policy by the agency. The agency can, therefore, define whether it requires a roster to be used, or any other process deemed appropriate. Some agencies establish different procedures depending on the amount anticipated to be spent.

There is no requirement for an agency to use a roster for A&E contracting. A roster can be incorporated into the A&E process of Ch. 39.80 RCW, and such procedures should be set forth in the agency’s policies.

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How does the council fill a vacancy in a council position if there is a tie vote?
Reviewed: 01/20

Although the statutes are not entirely clear, MRSC’s legal consultants have taken the position that the mayor can vote to break a tie vote of the council to fill a vacant council position.

RCW 42.12.070 provides that it is the governing body that makes the appointment, not the mayor. RCW 42.12.070(1) states that:

Where one position is vacant, the remaining members of the governing body shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacant position.

We think that under RCW 42.12.070 (see above) the mayor may not vote initially on filling the vacancy since such votes are limited to members of the city council itself. However, if there is a tie in the votes of the councilmembers, the mayor may exercise their tie-breaking authority and break the tie vote.

The mayor’s authority to break a tie vote is set forth in RCW 35A.12.100, which provides in part:

The mayor shall preside over all meetings of the city council, when present, but shall have a vote only in the case of a tie in the votes of the councilmembers with respect to matters other than the passage of any ordinance, grant, or revocation of franchise or license, or any resolution for the payment of money. . . . The mayor shall have the power to veto ordinances passed by the council and submitted to him or her as provided in RCW 35A.12.130 but such veto may be overridden by the vote of a majority of all councilmembers plus one more vote.

Filling a vacancy is a “matter other than the passage of any ordinance, grant, or revocation of a franchise, or any resolution for the payment of money. . . .” So, we think that the mayor could break a tie vote to fill a vacant position on council.

There is a contrary position, based on the legislative history of RCW 42.12.070 and Chapter 35A.12 RCW, that the mayor plays no role in the process of filling a vacancy on a council and that the general grant of tie-breaking authority in RCW 35A.12.100 does not control in the specific process outlined in RCW 42.12.070. This argument is based on a 1994 statutory amendment (1994 c 223 § 1), which removed any reference to the mayor. Prior to the 1994 amendment, RCW 35A.12.050 specifically provided that:

If, after thirty days have passed since the occurrence of a vacancy, the council are unable to agree upon a person to be appointed to fill a vacancy in the council, the mayor may make the appointment from among the persons nominated by members of the council. [Repealed in 1994].

The 1994 amendment removed this language, and instead cross-referenced the procedure in chapter 42.12 RCW for filling a vacancy. The procedure in chapter 42.12 RCW does not specifically reference the mayor.

Because there has been no caselaw or attorney general opinions on this point, reasonable legal minds can disagree, and we defer to the legal advice of the agency attorney.

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Can the sheriff's department use the "rule of five" when appointing new officers?
Reviewed: 12/19

No. Unlike cities and towns, the rules for counties lack language that allows local rules that “substantially accomplish the purpose” of the state law. See RCW 41.12.010, applicable to city police, which states:

The provisions of this chapter shall have no application to cities and towns which at the present time have provided for civil service in the police department or which shall subsequently provide for civil service in the police department by local charter or other regulations which said local charter or regulations substantially accomplish the purpose of this chapter, nor to cities having a police force of not more than two persons including the chief of police.

There is no similar language in the county statute, thus eliminating the possibility of a local rule that differs from the state law.

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Can a resolution be passed in executive session?
Reviewed: 12/19

The short answer is no. RCW 42.30.060 states, in relevant part:

No governing body of a public agency shall adopt any ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, order, or directive, except in a meeting open to the public and then only at a meeting, the date of which is fixed by law or rule, or at a meeting of which notice has been given according to the provisions of this chapter. Any action taken at meetings failing to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be null and void.

The Open Public Meetings Act allows for executive sessions only in certain circumstances as set forth at RCW 42.30.110. You’ll see that the governing body may do such things as “consider”, “discuss”, and “evaluate.” Final action, such as adopting a resolution, must be done in an open public meeting.

(Link to this question)

May the mayor's salary be increased immediately, not waiting for next election?
Reviewed: 12/19

For many offices, Article 11, Section 8 of the Washington Constitution prohibits elected officials from raising their own salary after their election and during their term of office. This prohibition on salary increases, however, applies only to officials who set their own salary, such as city councilmembers. See Const. art XXX, § 1. See also AGO Opinion, 1999, No. 1. Consequently, a salary increase for an elected official who does not set his or her own compensation, such as the mayor, may occur at any time.

If there was a tie vote in the council, normally the mayor could break the tie. However, if it is a tie vote as to raising the mayor’s salary, while in that instance the mayor could break the tie, he or she would not be able to take the new, higher salary until the next term of office. But, generally, if the council increases the mayor’s salary, the new salary can go into effect immediately.

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Are LEOFF-1 Disability Boards subject to the Open Public Meetings Act?
Reviewed: 12/19

Yes, the LEOFF 1 Disability Board is created pursuant to RCW 41.26.110 and subject to the Open Public Meetings Act. RCW 42.30.030 provides in part: “All meetings of the governing body of a public agency shall be open and public.” A public agency is defined as any city or county (among others) and includes:

(c) Any subagency of a public agency which is created by or pursuant to statute, ordinance, or other legislative act, including but not limited to planning commissions, library or park boards, commissions, and agencies;

RCW 42.30.020(1)(b) and (c). That would include a LEOFF Disability Board.

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What are our requirements for turning over lost and found items to law enforcement? How long do we keep them?
Reviewed: 11/19

State law for public entities provides that there is a requirement to turn lost and found property over to law enforcement after ten (10) days but within thirty (30) days. RCW 63.21.060 sets forth the procedures to be followed by governmental entities when they acquire lost property. That statute indicates the agency should take the following steps:

  1. Attempt to notify the apparent owner of the property.
  2. If the owner does not collect the property, then within 30 days but not less than 10 days

As an alternative, the agency can choose to dispose of the property in the same manner that the police or sheriff departments dispose of property (see chapters 63.32 and 63.40 RCW – these statutes appear to be procedurally identical, so either one would be useful for your purposes).

The statutes are pretty lengthy; it would be worth your time to read them in full. Here is the summary version for personal property in the hands of police:

  1. Provide written notice to the owner, if known
  2. 60 days from notice, if the property is not claimed, the agency can:
    1. Sell the property at a public auction to highest bidder
    2. Retain the property for agency use; except the owner has the right to reclaim the property within 1 year of receipt of notice
    3. Destroy the property if it has no commercial value or the cost of the sale exceeds its value and other factors are met
    4. Donate the property to nonprofit charitable organizations.

Your agency should ensure that its lost and found policy is consistent with these state law provisions.

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Do local governments have to submit their regular meeting schedules to the state?
Reviewed: 11/19

We sometimes get asked whether the Open Public Meetings Act requires cities, counties, or special purpose districts to submit their regular meeting schedules to the state code reviser’s office or notify the state of changes to the regular meeting schedule. The answer is no.

RCW 42.30.075 requires state agencies to file their regular meeting schedules with the code reviser’s office by January of each year for publication in the Washington State Register and notify the office of any changes to the schedule at least 20 days before the rescheduled meeting.

However, this statute only applies to state agencies, and there is no similar requirement for local governments.

Local government agencies should still adopt a schedule for their regular meetings and publish notice as required by OPMA. RCW 42.30.070 provides in part, “The governing body of a public agency shall provide the time for holding regular meetings by ordinance, resolution, bylaws, or by whatever other rule is required for the conduct of business by that body.”

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When we have outside vendors complete regular or routine maintenance items (less than $1,000 say) is paying prevailing wage rates a requirement?
Reviewed: 11/19

There is no dollar threshold that applies when qualifying work requires prevailing wage. Whether prevailing wage is required depends on the work being performed, not the dollar amount.

To make a determination, one should first look at whether the work involves the hands-on work of “laborers, workers or mechanics” and then whether the work is to perform any “construction, reconstruction, maintenance or repair” (see RCW 39.12.030) or demolition, etc. (WAC 296-127-010(7)(a)).If so, one should then determine whether such work is executed at a cost to the state or of any municipality pursuant to RCW 39.04.010(4).

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Is there a process our agency should have for an employee to access their personnel file?
Reviewed: 11/19

Yes. Regarding employee review of a personnel file, that RCW 49.12.240 provides:

Every employer shall, at least annually, upon the request of an employee, permit that employee to inspect any or all of his or her own personnel file(s).

Regarding correction of erroneous or disputed information in the file, RCW 49.12.250 states:

(1) Each employer shall make such file(s) available locally within a reasonable period of time after the employee requests the      file(s).

(2) An employee annually may petition that the employer review all information in the employee’s personnel file(s) that are regularly maintained by the employer as a part of his business records or are subject to reference for information given to persons outside of the company. The employer shall determine if there is any irrelevant or erroneous information in the file(s), and shall remove all such information from the file(s). If an employee does not agree with the employer’s determination, the employee may at his or her request have placed in the employee’s personnel file a statement containing the employee’s rebuttal or correction. Nothing in this subsection prevents the employer from removing information more frequently.

(3) A former employee shall retain the right of rebuttal or correction for a period not to exceed two years.

Regarding limitations on an employee’s inspection of his/her personnel file, RCW 49.12.260 provides:

RCW 49.12.240 and 49.12.250 do not apply to the records of an employee relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense. RCW 49.12.240 and 49.12.250 do not apply to information or records compiled in preparation for an impending lawsuit which would not be available to another party under the rules of pretrial discovery for causes pending in the superior courts.

If the exemptions in RCW 49.12.260 may apply, we recommend you review the file with your legal counsel.

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Do you have a list of federal and state posters that are required to be hung? Also, what is the requirement related to having those posters in another language?
Reviewed: 10/19

MRSC has a webpage relating to Required Employment Posters. There are a number of resources on that webpage including a helpful fact sheet entitled, Workplace Posters: Required and Recommended, prepared by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). The fact sheet provides a list of posters that Washington State and federal agencies require or recommend employers post in their places of business. The fact sheet also includes online resources and contact numbers for state agencies that issue posters. MRSC's Required Employment Posters page also has links to federally-required employment posters. Note that the list is not intended to be exhaustive and we recommend you also consult with your agency attorney.

L&I also has a webpage entitled “Answers to questions about required workplace posters” that we recommend you review because it includes additional information about signage requirements including whether you are required to post in languages other than English.

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A former employee has requested to view all personnel records that pertain to him/her, specifically the personnel, payroll, and benefit files. Am I correct in assuming that this is a public records request and that since the content of all the requested files/documents are about the requestor, no exemptions and redactions are required?
Reviewed: 10/19

In our opinion, you can characterize this request as being a public records request. And, most---and likely all---of this information can be released since the responsive records are about the requestor. Members of the public have some access to information found in an employee’s personnel file, although there are exemptions (e.g., medical records, performance evaluations, Social Security numbers, employees’ addresses and phone numbers, among others). But the purpose of those exemptions is not present when the requestor is requesting his or her own personnel records.

There may be a few items in the file, that should not be released. Before releasing the file, we suggest you check to see if there is any information regarding a current investigation of a possible criminal offense or information compiled in preparation of an impending lawsuit. RCW 49.12.260 provides:

RCW 49.12.240 and 49.12.250 do not apply to the records of an employee relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense. RCW 49.12.240 and 49.12.250 do not apply to information or records compiled in preparation for an impending lawsuit which would not be available to another party under the rules of pretrial discovery for causes pending in the superior courts.

Your agency should review the file to determine if any redactions need to be made. An example of a redaction that might need to be made would be of personal information of another employee, such as that other employee’s address, telephone number, Social Security number, etc. We think that the file likely does not have such information, but if it does, it should be redacted.

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Under what circumstances can a local government official receive reimbursement for meals or travel expenses incurred in connection with official duties?
Reviewed: 10/19

State law governs reimbursement of state and local officials for reimbursement of travel expenses. RCW 42.24.090 allows the governing body of a local government to, at its discretion, adopt a policy authorizing travel and meal reimbursement if certain criteria is satisfied:

No claim for reimbursement of any expenditures by officers or employees of any municipal corporation or political subdivision of the state for transportation, lodging, meals or any other purpose shall be allowed by any officer, employee or board charged with auditing accounts unless the same shall be presented in a detailed account: PROVIDED, That, unless otherwise authorized by law, the legislative body of any municipal corporation or political subdivision of the state may prescribe by ordinance or resolution the amounts to be paid officers or employees thereof as reimbursement for the use of their personal automobiles or other transportation equipment in connection with officially assigned duties and other travel for approved public purposes, or as reimbursement to such officers or employees in lieu of actual expenses incurred for lodging, meals or other purposes. The rates for such reimbursements may be computed on a mileage, hourly, per diem, monthly, or other basis as the respective legislative bodies shall determine to be proper in each instance: PROVIDED, That in lieu of such reimbursements, payments for the use of personal automobiles for official travel may be established if the legislative body determines that these payments would be less costly to the municipal corporation or political subdivision of the state than providing automobiles for official travel.

All claims authorized under this section shall be duly certified by the officer or employee submitting such claims on forms and in the manner prescribed by the state auditor.

There is some flexibility associated with travel reimbursement as shown above in RCW 42.24.090. The statute requires a travel policy to establish how officers and employees shall be reimbursed for travel costs associated with their work. Local governments typically have such travel policies to fit the needs of their respective jurisdictions.

We have a webpage that provides examples of meal and travel policies adopted by local governments. If your agency has a policy for reimbursement of travel and meal expenses incurred in connection with official business, then you should follow that policy with respect to requests for reimbursement. If there is not a policy, your agency should consider adopting one—the webpage linked above has numerous examples that may be helpful in that regard.

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May a councilmember decline his or her salary?
Reviewed: 10/19

Yes. Councilmembers may waive or refuse a salary from the city. Such a waiver would be voluntary and should be made in accordance with an existing city policy and in writing. A waiver can be done but, as described below, the enforceability of such a waiver could be an issue. Article XI, Section 8 of the Washington Constitution prohibits a city or town council from increasing or diminishing the salary of a councilmember after her/his election or during her/his term of office. Article XI, Section 8 provides (emphasis added):

The salary of any county, city, town, or municipal officers shall not be increased except as provided in section 1 of Article XXX or diminished after his election, or during his term of office; nor shall the term of any such officer be extended beyond the period for which he is elected or appointed.

Section 1 of Article XXX referenced in Article 11, Section 8 provides that elected county, town, city, or municipal officers who do not fix their own compensation can have their salaries increased during their terms of office.

Consistent with these provisions, a councilmember can voluntarily choose to waive, refuse, or donate a portion (or all) of the salary that has been established for the position. For example, a councilmember could agree, in writing, to waive the official salary, or a portion of it, so that she/he would actually be paid a lesser amount than the official salary. This fact pattern would not violate Article XI, Section 8 because the official salary would not be decreased or diminished after the election or during the term of office. A related issue is whether waiving or refusing a salary would have federal payroll tax implications. A councilmember can likely decide whether to receive or forego his/her compensation. We think that if a councilmember receives her/his salary, in whole or in part, and then donates the funds back to the city then there would be payroll tax implications for the salary received. However, if the councilmember voluntarily chooses not to receive all or a portion of the salary, there would not be payroll tax implications for the salary not received by the councilmember.

We have previously provided guidance that it would be beneficial for a city or town council to enact an ordinance to make clear to current and future councilmembers that there is a local policy that allows them to waive all or a portion of their salary. Such an ordinance would also set forth the way a councilmember may do so. It’s unclear, however, how much protection this would provide if a councilmember who initially agreed to waive her/his compensation later changed her/his mind and demanded back payment for what was waived. If there is a written agreement between the municipality and a councilmember providing that the councilmember is voluntarily and irrevocably waiving all or a specified portion of her/his compensation, it reduces the risk that councilmembers will later change their minds.

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Must town resolutions be published in a newspaper to go into effect?
Reviewed: 09/19

The short answer is generally no—a resolution does not need to be published to become official and it becomes effective immediately. We have a helpful publication Local Ordinances for Washington Cities and Counties which explains the difference between resolutions and ordinances. See the introduction at pp. 1-2.

The general publication requirements for ordinances are summarized on p. 26. While all ordinances must be published in a town, the same is not true for resolutions (again, unless a specific statute includes publication requirements).

(Link to this question)

The county currently assesses a 0.1 percent sales tax for criminal justice purposes. What are its options for increasing the sales tax for public safety purposes?
Reviewed: 09/19

There is a lot of helpful information on criminal justice/public safety sales tax options in our Revenue Guide for Counties, which was completely rewritten and republished in February 2019.

You indicated that the county is currently imposing a 0.1 percent sales tax for criminal justice. That is likely the criminal justice sales tax authorized by RCW 82.14.340. For more information on how that tax works, please see the Revenue Guide for Counties, page 81.

There are two options for imposing additional sales taxes for public safety and mental health/chemical dependency treatment. First is the mental health and chemical dependency tax authorized by RCW 82.14.460. This tax does not require voter approval, but there are requirements for use of the revenue, as explained in the County Revenue Guide, page 87:

  • Any county that imposes this sales tax is also required to establish and operate a therapeutic court component for drug dependency proceedings “designed to be effective for the court’s size, location, and resources.” The revenues may be used to support the cost of the judicial officer and support staff of the therapeutic court.

The second option is the public safety sales tax authorized in RCW 82.14.450, which authorizes up to 0.3 percent, but requires voter approval. For more on that, see p. 88 of the County Revenue Guide.

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What is the difference between setting fee schedules by resolution versus ordinance?
Reviewed: 09/19

We have a publication entitled Local Ordinances for Washington Cities and Counties that addresses the difference between ordinances and resolutions at pages 1-2. Here is an excerpt (there is additional discussion in the publication):

  • When should an ordinance be used instead of a resolution? Obviously, if a state statute requires one form be used instead of the other, that requirement must be followed. If no particular form is specified, either a resolution or ordinance may be used. Ministerial and administrative acts may be exercised by resolution. Legislative acts, however, it has been suggested, should be made by ordinance.
  • What is “legislative”? The general guiding principle is that “[a]ctions relating to subjects of a permanent and general character are usually regarded as legislative, and those providing for subjects of a temporary and special character are regarded as administrative.” [emphasis added, footnotes omitted]

Cities and counties commonly use resolutions for fee schedules. It is easier to adopt an updated fee schedule by resolution than by ordinance. If fees are set forth by ordinance in a city or county code, then the code must be amended each time the city or county wants to change the fees. Setting fees is generally to be considered ministerial or administrative instead of legislative. A city or county could set fees by ordinance, but doing so by resolution is generally considered to be more convenient. Fees would only need to be set by ordinance if there is a specific statute that specifies an ordinance.

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