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Is the county required to allow in the courthouse all animals claimed to be service animals? Can the county ask for some sort of certification regarding the service animal?
Reviewed: 06/15

See the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division ADA publication entitled ADA 2010 Revised Requirements - Service Animals (July 2011). This publication discusses general protections for service animals under both Title II (State and local government services) and Title III (Public accommodations and commercial facilities). It provides an overview of the issues you are asking about, including how service animals are defined, where service animals are allowed, what inquiries can be made concerning the status of service animals, and conditions that warrant removal of a service animal from the premises.

In regard to your specific questions, note the following relevant discussion from this DOJ publication:

When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person's disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.

The work or task a service animal has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person's disability. Animals whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA.

The DOJ publication goes on to identify two circumstances under which the local government can ask a person with a disability to remove his service animal from the premises:

A person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless: (1) the dog is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or (2) the dog is not housebroken. When there is a legitimate reason to ask that a service animal be removed, staff must offer the person with the disability the opportunity to obtain goods or services without the animal's presence.

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Is there a state law requirement that water customers who are delinquent in paying their water bill be given a hearing before their water can be shut off?
Reviewed: 06/15

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that utility customers have a property interest in continued service that is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div. v. Craft, 436 U.S. 1 (1978). Based on that authority, customers must receive certain due process before such utilities are shut off.

The court in Memphis provided important guidance regarding the minimum due process requirements applicable to such situations. Generally, customers facing disconnection of their utility service must, prior to shut-off, be notified in writing and be given an opportunity for a hearing. The following is a brief description of such a process:

1. Written Notice - The written notice provided by the utility must, in clear, layperson's terms:

Notify customer that their utility service is subject to termination.

Inform the customer of available opportunities to present objections to the bill. Provide a telephone number, address, and department of the person who will handle the complaint.

2. Hearing - The utility must provide an opportunity for an informal hearing for the customer to dispute the charges.

The date of the hearing must be reasonably well in advance of the scheduled shut-off.

The hearing must be before an official or staff member with authority to resolve the dispute (e.g., the authority to review the facts, to correct any errors in the billings, and arrange for payment terms). Such disputes needn't be heard by the city council or other formal board.

Note also that RCW 35.21.300, provides in part, with respect to water and electric service:

(3) The utility shall: (a) Include in any notice that an account is delinquent and that service may be subject to termination, a description of the customer's duties in this section; (b) Assist the customer in fulfilling the requirements under this section; (c) Be authorized to transfer an account to a new residence when a customer who has established a plan under this section moves from one residence to another within the same utility service area; (d) Be permitted to disconnect service if the customer fails to honor the payment program. Utilities may continue to disconnect service for those practices authorized by law other than for nonpayment as provided for in this section. Customers who qualify for payment plans under this section who default on their payment plans and are disconnected can be reconnected and maintain the protections afforded under this chapter by paying reconnection charges, if any, and by paying all amounts that would have been due and owing under the terms of the applicable payment plan, absent default, on the date on which service is reconnected; and (e) Advise the customer in writing at the time it disconnects service that it will restore service if the customer contacts the utility and fulfills the other requirements of this section.

Additional detail and practical suggestions related to how to address utility delinquencies are provided on our Collection Practices for Delinquent Utility Accounts webpage.

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Can the question of whether marijuana businesses should be allowed in the city be decided by a voter initiative?
Reviewed: 06/15

It's our opinion that the question of whether marijuana businesses can be located within the city is not subject to voter initiative. This issue is, basically, a zoning/land use planning question, and the courts have been clear that zoning/land use planning issues are not proper subjects for initiative or referendum. See, e.g., Leonard v. Bothell, 87 Wn.2d 847 (1976); Lince v. Bremerton, 25 Wn. App. 309 (1980). The reasoning of the courts is that the legislature has delegated the zoning power in a city to the city council and not to the city as a corporate entity; if a power has been delegated to the city council, it is not subject to voter initiative.

So, the voters may not, in our opinion, repeal this ordinance through the initiative process.

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Can a city or county regulate the design and location of mailboxes?
Reviewed: 06/15

In general, the U.S. Postal Service has complete authority over approving or disapproving the availability of curbside delivery as well as the location and design of mailboxes. Although a city may have some limited authority to regulate certain aspects of mailbox design or location (e.g. placement to prevent obstruction of sidewalk use), the city generally cannot overrule a mailbox design or location that has been approved by the Postal Service. Given these limitations, MRSC recommends that cities/counties work with the local post office when determining the design and placement of curbside mailboxes, as the local postmaster has primary control over the approval of mailbox design and locations. We found a few cities and counties that include provisions in their codes covering the design or placement of mailboxes. In general, these provisions direct individuals to the postal service for approval over mailbox design and placement.

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Are Airbnb (and the like) rentals subject to the lodging tax?
Reviewed: 06/15

Yes, though it's a roundabout way that we get to that result, because the lodging tax statutes do not actually define "lodging." RCW 67.28.180(1) provides that the lodging tax is imposed on "the furnishing of lodging that is subject to tax under chapter 82.08 RCW," the RCW chapter dealing with the retail sales tax. RCW 82.08.010(6) states that "The meaning attributed in chapter 82.04 RCW to the terms . . . 'sale' . . . applies equally to the provisions of this chapter." RCW 82.04.040(1) defines "sale" to include "any transfer of the ownership of, title to, or possession of property for a valuable consideration and includes any activity classified as a 'sale at retail' or 'retail sale' under RCW 82.04.050." RCW 82.04.050(2)(f) then defines "sale at retail" or "retail sale" to include:

The furnishing of lodging and all other services by a hotel, rooming house, tourist court, motel, trailer camp, and the granting of any similar license to use real property, as distinguished from the renting or leasing of real property, and it is presumed that the occupancy of real property for a continuous period of one month or more constitutes a rental or lease of real property and not a mere license to use or enjoy the same.

(Emphasis added.) The rental of a room or an apartment or a house, etc., through an organization like Airbnb or VRBO qualifies as the "furnishing of lodging" under this definition, because it represents a "license to use real property." That furnishing of lodging through Airbnb and the like is thus subject to a local lodging tax.

Airbnb, on its website, even acknowledges this:

Your state or locality may impose a tax on the rental of rooms. In many places this is known as a occupancy tax, but may also be known as a lodging tax, a room tax, a use tax, a tourist tax, or hotel tax. We expect all hosts to familiarize themselves with and follow their local laws and regulations.

Of course, unless your jurisdiction knows, though a licensing or registration scheme, what property owners act as Airbnb "hosts," it will be unable to collect its lodging tax from those hosts. We are not aware of any local governments in this state that yet regulate businesses like Airbnb through a licensing or registration scheme, though some may. For more information on regulating property rental businesses like Airbnb, see our blog post, Airbnb:Regulation of Internet-Based Businesses.

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May candidates for mayor have a "meet and greet your candidates night" at city hall, and, if not, can it be held at the school gym since it is not a school board election?
Reviewed: 05/15

First we want to note that the answer to your question is the same regardless if the event would be held in the city hall or in the school gym, since both the city and the school district are public agencies within the meaning of RCW 42.17A.555, which contains the prohibition on using public office or public agency facilities to support or oppose a candidate or ballot proposition. See definition of "agency" in RCW 42.17A.005(2). It does not matter that this does not involve a school board election.

The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), the agency that enforces RCW 42.17A.555, has concluded that the "Use of agency meeting facilities is permitted when the facility is merely a 'neutral forum' where the activity is taking place, and the public agency in charge of the facility is not actively endorsing or supporting the activity that is occurring." See Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns, PDC Interpretation 04-02 (amended May 2013). Often such neutral forums involve the candidates taking turns giving speeches to the attendees, but it could also encompass a "meet and greet" as is contemplated here.

So, yes, the "meet and greet" could take place at the city hall.

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How many signatures are required on the blanket voucher form if the vouchers have been approved by the city council in a regular meeting?
Reviewed: 05/15

Chapter 42.24 RCW provides for the certification and approval of claims against the municipality. All claims require pre-auditing by the auditing officer and must be certified by the auditing officer as true and just claims against the city. The certification requires signature on either an individual or blanket voucher form that lists the individual claims being certified. The council is required to approve the voucher(s) presented for payment, and, as part of this approval process, the SAO recommends in the BARS Manual that the governing body include appropriate language within the minutes of the meeting to confirm the legislative approval.

The council's signatures on the blanket voucher are not specifically required in the RCW or by the SAO through its prescriptions in the BARS Manual. Council approval in a regularly-scheduled council meeting of vouchers that have been audited, certified, and submitted for approval by the auditing officer on either an individual and/or blanket voucher does not require additional signatures by council on the voucher form. The recording of voucher approval in the minutes is sufficient to meet the requirements of the law.

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We have a planning commission member who would like to participate in the regular planning commission meeting by teleconference. If she calls in, is she considered a member for purposes of a quorum and can she vote on a motion?
Reviewed: 05/15

Remote participation by a member of a governing body, including a planning commission, can count toward a quorum and for voting purposes if that body - the planning commission here - adopts a policy allowing for such remote participation. State law, including the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), chapter 42.30 RCW, doesn't prohibit a planning commission from adopting a policy that allows members to participate in a meeting remotely such as via speakerphone or video conferencing. However, there must be two-way communication -- the person on the phone line or video feed must be able to both hear what's happening at the meeting and also be heard by those present at the meeting. Under such circumstances, this would be considered as attendance at the meeting and that person would count toward the quorum and for voting purposes.

We recommend that the planning commission adopt a policy that specifically addresses the issue. If such a policy isn't in place currently, the commission could vote to approve such a policy at the beginning of the meeting and, if that vote passes, the commissioner at issue could then participate remotely. Generally, it's advisable for such policies to restrict such remote participation to limited circumstances. Under such policies, the planning commission is the one to determine in a particular circumstance whether the policy applies.

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Do former employees have a right to review their personnel files? Would they be allowed to make copies or have the opportunity to respond to anything in their files?
Reviewed: 05/15

We have opined that an ex-employee has a statutory right, as described below, to review his/her personnel file for a two-year period after his/her employment with the city has terminated. A key provision in this regard is RCW 49.12.250, which provides, in part:

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

The reference to retaining the right of rebuttal or correction must be considered in the context of the other provisions of RCW 49.12.250, which provide, related to an employee's personnel file:

(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.

In order for the right of rebuttal or correction referenced in RCW 49.12.250(3) to be meaningful, a former employee would need to be able to review the contents of the file to possibly rebut or correct information in that file. So, for a two-year period after an employee has concluded his/her employment with the city, that employee retains the right to review his/her personnel file, in accordance with RCW 49.12.250 (and RCW 49.12.260, - see below).

Note that there are limitations on an employee's right of inspection related to his/her personnel file. Presumably, those same restrictions apply as well to former employees. RCW 49.12.260 provides:

RCW 49.12.240 and RCW 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 RCW 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.

Once the two-year period referenced in RCW 49.12.250 expires, there's no specific provision allowing a former employee the right to inspect his/her personnel file. The plain meaning of the term "employee" in this context refers to someone working for the city and doesn't seem to include someone who formerly worked for the city. The definition is included in RCW 49.12.005, as follows:

(4) "Employee" means an employee who is employed in the business of the employee's employer whether by way of manual labor or otherwise.

So, after the two-year time period, a former city employee would have the same right of inspection of city records as any other person under the Public Records Act (PRA) (chapter 42.56 RCW). As a practical matter, the city could choose in such a situation to allow a former employee broader access to his/her own personnel file, but the city wouldn't be legally required to.

You also asked whether the city can allow a former employee to make copies of records in his/her personnel file. Based on the provisions referenced above, specifically RCW 49.12.240 and RCW 49.12.250 and RCW 49.12.260, we think the city can make copies of records in a former employee's personnel file and make those records available to that former employee, as long as the city complies with RCW 49.12.250, RCW 49.12.260, and the PRA. If the city is making the records available in response to a PRA request, the city would need to review the records to determine if any exemptions under the PRA apply to any information in any records that are responsive to such a PRA request.

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May the city sell surplus property to a specific individual (without offering it to all)?            
Reviewed: 04/15

Yes. There is no requirement that surplus city property be offered to all, or put up at auction, or that bids be requested. Cities do not have required procedures for the disposal of surplus property as do counties in chapter 36.34 RCW. The property can be sold to a specific individual, if that is what council wishes to do.  Though, council should still declare the property surplus to the city's needs and set a price below which it will not be sold. Obviously, if the council has adopted a policy regarding sale of surplus property, that policy should be followed (or changed, if need be).

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Does the removal of the interior lot line between two lots constitute a plat alteration or a boundary line adjustment?
Reviewed: 04/15

The removal of the interior lot line between two lots is generally considered to be a boundary line adjustment. See Island County v. Dillingham Dev. Co., 99 Wn.2d 215, 223 (1983), in which the state supreme court held that combining lots and portions of lots by changing boundaries to form larger lots does not result in the creation of additional lots and is therefore exempt from the platting requirements of chapter 58.17 RCW; the court stated:

Based on the suggestions of the auditor and the prosecuting attorney, the respondents combined 400 Brooklyn and Chicago plat undersized lots by changing boundaries, incorporating lots or half lots to fulfill the minimum requirements of a 60-foot-wide lot and an area of at least 12,500 feet. This was done in accordance with section 6 of the Island County interim zoning ordinance which authorized grouping of undersized lots in sufficient multiples to meet density requirements.

We hold that the Chicago and Brooklyn combinations were boundary line adjustments which did not result in the creation of any additional lots, and were thus exempt from the platting requirements of the local planning commission.

The state supreme court reaffirmed its holding in Dillingham in City of Seattle v. Crispin, 149 Wn.2d 896, 903-04 (2003):

In Dillingham, Island County brought suit against land developers claiming the boundary adjustments in that case resulted in an illegal subdivision because the owners never received permission to make the adjustments. We disagreed and held a reconfiguration of boundary lines without the creation of additional lots was a boundary line adjustment that did not require approval under state or local subdivision laws. Dillingham, 99 Wn.2d at 223. We relied on the exemption in RCW 58.17.040, the same statute applicable in the present case. The land owner in Dillingham had adjusted the boundaries of an old plat to combine what had been substandard lots into fewer, larger lots that met the current zoning requirements. After the adjustment, the lots could then be sold. We held the reconfiguration was a boundary line adjustment exempt from the subdivision process. The interpretation of the statute we adopted in Dillingham established that boundary line adjustments which do not result in the creation of any additional lots are exempt from the platting requirements of local planning commissions and are exempt under the specific language of RCW 58.17.040.

So, these two cases confirm the conclusion that combining lots by eliminating interior lot lines is a boundary line adjustment that is, under RCW 58.17.040(6), exempt from subdivision requirements in chapter 58.17 RCW, including the requirements that apply to the alteration of a subdivision in RCW 58.17.215 or, in the case of short plats, under locally adopted procedures.

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What should be done with unclaimed warrants that were issued several years ago but never negotiated or presented at our bank?
Reviewed: 04/15

Under RCW 39.56.040, warrants not presented within one year of their issue "shall be canceled by passage of a resolution of the governing body of the municipal corporation." Those canceled warrants then fall under RCW 33.29.190(2)(a), part of the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, which provides as follows:

Counties, cities, towns, and other municipal and quasi-municipal corporations that hold funds representing warrants canceled pursuant to RCW 36.22.100 and 39.56.040, uncashed checks, and property tax overpayments or refunds may retain the funds until the owner notifies them and establishes ownership as provided in RCW 63.29.135. Counties, cities, towns, or other municipal or quasi-municipal corporations shall provide to the department [of Revenue] a report of property it is holding pursuant to this section. The report shall identify the property and owner in the manner provided in RCW 63.29.170 and the department shall publish the information as provided in RCW 63.29.180.

(Emphasis added.)

RCW 63.29.135, referenced above, provides:

A local government holding abandoned intangible property that is not forwarded to the department of revenue, as authorized under RCW 63.29.190, shall not be required to maintain current records of this property for longer than five years after the property is presumed to be abandoned, and at that time may archive records of this intangible property and transfer the intangible property to its general fund. However, the local government shall remain liable to pay the intangible property to a person or entity subsequently establishing its ownership of this intangible property.

Although RCW 63.29.130 presumes intangible property to be abandoned when it is held by the government (including a city) and is unclaimed for more than two years after becoming payable, we think that warrants canceled under RCW 39.56.040would effectively be presumed abandoned such that the five-year period in RCW 63.29.135 begins upon cancellation of the warrants. Note that abandoned property worth $50 or under need be reported to the Department of Revenue under RCW 63.29.170(2) only in the aggregate.


So, basically, it's our conclusion that, after the expiration of five years after a warrant is canceled by the city council, the funds it represents can be returned to the general fund. It's unfortunate that the road to this conclusion isn't easier.


Note also for future reference that the Department of Revenue has a website on reporting unclaimed property, as well as a resource entitled Washington State Unclaimed Property Local Government Guide

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May the city pass a distracted driver ordinance that is more restrictive than state law, such as making it a traffic infraction to use cell phones, while driving, in ways that are not currently prohibited in state law?
Reviewed: 04/15

We don't think the city may pass a more restrictive distracted driver ordinance. The Washington courts have strictly interpreted the ability of cities and counties to enact regulatory provisions that are not uniform with the state statutory provisions on motor vehicles. In a prominent case regarding this issue of a city enacting a more stringent traffic ordinance, Seattle v. Williams, 128 Wn.2d 341 (1995), the state supreme court invalidated a city ordinance that defined the offense of driving while intoxicated using a lessor blood alcohol level (0.08) than used in state law (0.10). (The Legislature changed the level to 0.08 in 1998.) The court began its opinion, at 341-42, as follows:

The question presented by this appeal is whether the City of Seattle may enforce an ordinance that defines the offense of driving while intoxicated in a manner that is not in uniformity with a state statute defining the offense of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor. We hold that it may not, because to allow it to do so would contravene RCW 46.08.020, a statute which requires traffic laws to be "applicable and uniform throughout this state," as well as RCW 46.08.030, a statute which requires traffic laws to be "applicable and uniform upon all persons operating vehicles upon the public highways of this state

A more restrictive distracted driver ordinance effective only in your city would also - by being "more restrictive" than state law - violate this uniformity requirement regarding traffic laws as set out in RCW 46.08.030.

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What limits are there on city officials lobbying on proposed legislation at the state legislature?
Reviewed: 03/15

Lobbying by local governments on proposed legislation in the state legislature is governed by RCW 42.17A.635, which at subsection (3) provides in part:

Any agency, not otherwise expressly authorized by law, may expend public funds for lobbying, but such lobbying activity shall be limited to (a) providing information or communicating on matters pertaining to official agency business to any elected official or officer or employee of any agency or (b) advocating the official position or interests of the agency to any elected official or officer or employee of any agency. Public funds may not be expended as a direct or indirect gift or campaign contribution to any elected official or officer or employee of any agency. For the purposes of this subsection, "gift" means a voluntary transfer of any thing of value without consideration of equal or greater value, but does not include informational material transferred for the sole purpose of informing the recipient about matters pertaining to official agency business.  

Note the definition of "lobbying" in RCW 42.17A.005(30):

Each mean attempting to influence the passage or defeat of any legislation by the legislature of the state of Washington, or the adoption or rejection of any rule, standard, rate, or other legislative enactment of any state agency under the state administrative procedure act, chapter 34.05 RCW.

The expenditure of public funds for lobbying authorized by RCW 42.17A.635(3) must be reported to the PDC, per RCW 42.17A.635(5), which states in part:

Each state agency, county, city, town, municipal corporation, quasi-municipal corporation, or special purpose district that expends public funds for lobbying shall file with the commission, except as exempted by (d) of this subsection, quarterly statements providing the following information for the quarter just completed . . . .

The expenditure of public funds for lobbying is to be reported on PDC Form L-5. Note that "lobbying" for purposes of reporting the expenditure of public funds to the PDC does not include, among other things:

(A) Telephone conversations or preparation of written correspondence;
(B) In-person lobbying on behalf of an agency of no more than four days or parts thereof during any three-month period by officers or employees of that agency and in-person lobbying by any elected official of such agency on behalf of such agency or in connection with the powers, duties, or compensation of such official. The total expenditures of nonpublic funds made in connection with such lobbying for or on behalf of any one or more members of the legislature or state elected officials or public officers or employees of the state of Washington may not exceed fifteen dollars for any three-month period. The exemption under this subsection (5)(d)(v)(B) is in addition to the exemption provided in (d)(v)(A) of this subsection;
(C) Preparation or adoption of policy positions.

RCW 42.17A.635(5)(d)(v). Note that the above subsection also addresses the expenditure of nonpublic funds for lobbying. Expenditures of nonpublic funds over $15 in any three-month period is also to be reported on Form L-5.
We are not aware of any monetary limit on the expenditure of public funds for lobbying. 

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What is the difference between a contingency fund and a cumulative reserve fund?
Reviewed: 03/15

A contingency fund and a cumulative reserve fund are not the same and are often used to fund completely separate activities.

A contingency fund is a sub-fund of the general fund and it supports general fund activities.  RCW 35A.33.145 (for code cities) provides:

Every code city may create and maintain a contingency fund to provide moneys with which to meet any municipal expense, the necessity or extent of which could not have been foreseen or reasonably evaluated at the time of adopting the annual budget, or from which to provide moneys for those emergencies described in RCW 35A.33.080 and 35A.33.090. Such fund may be supported by a budget appropriation from any tax or other revenue source not restricted in use by law, or also may be supported by a transfer from other unexpended or decreased funds made available by ordinance as set forth in RCW 35A.33.120: PROVIDED, That the total amount accumulated in such fund at any time shall not exceed the equivalent of thirty-seven and one-half cents per thousand dollars of assessed valuation of property within the city at such time. Any moneys in the contingency fund at the end of the fiscal year shall not lapse except upon re-appropriation by the council to another fund in the adoption of a subsequent budget.  

The funds set aside in the contingency fund do not lapse at year end; however, these funds are "not restricted" and can be re-appropriated to another fund in a subsequent budget. It is important to note that the monies set aside in the contingency fund must be expended according to RCW 35A.33.080 (Emergency) or RCW 35A.33.090 (Other Emergencies), both of which require a supermajority vote. RCW 35A.33.090 requires that the public be allowed to be heard for or against the emergency ordinance.

Additionally, the following statute applies to withdrawals from this fund. No money can be withdrawn from the contingency fund except when authorized by a resolution or ordinance of the city council, adopted by majority vote of the entire council and stating the facts constituting the reason for the withdrawal. RCW 35A.33.146 states:

No money shall be withdrawn from the contingency fund except by transfer to the appropriate operating fund authorized by a resolution or ordinance of the council, adopted by a vote of the majority of the entire council, clearly stating the facts constituting the reason for the withdrawal or the emergency as the case may be, specifying the fund to which the withdrawn money shall be transferred.

Cumulative reserve funds are different. If the city used RCW 35.21.070 to establish the cumulative reserve fund for specific municipal purposes, once the fund has been established, the moneys in the fund may not be expended for any other purpose than those specified, unless authorized by a two-thirds majority vote of the council

Also, RCW 35.21.080 provides

An item for said cumulative reserve fund may be included in the city or town's annual budget or estimate of amounts required to meet public expense for the ensuing year and a tax levy made within the limits and as authorized by law for said item; and said item and levy may be repeated from year to year until, in the judgment of the legislative body of the city or town, the amount required for the specified purpose or purposes has been raised or accumulated. Any moneys in said fund at the end of the fiscal year shall not lapse nor shall the same be a surplus available or which may be used for any other purpose or purposes than those specified, except as herein provided.

RCW 35.21.080 affirms that the city "may" include an annual budget appropriation but is not required to, which allows the fund to build up reserves. The reference to "any moneys in said fund at the end of the fiscal year shall not lapse" refers to the accumulation of funds and not the issue of budget appropriations. 

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Is a water line extension project exempt from SEPA?
Reviewed: 03/15

Yes, if the line is 12 inches or less in diameter and the water line does not cross any "lands covered by water." WAC 197-11-800 (23)(b).

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May local governments electronically scan all their invoices and save the electronic version instead of the original paper version from the vendor?
Reviewed: 03/15

Yes, that is legal, provided the requirements of the Washington State Archives' Local Government Common Records Retention Schedule (CORE), Version 3.1 (December 18, 2014), are followed. Section 5.5 (Records Conversion) of the records retention schedule, at GS50-09-14, addresses scanning/digitizing "non-archival records" - which would include invoices - and states that such must occur in accordance with the Washington State Requirements for the Destruction of Non-Archival Paper Records After Imaging, or they may be "Scanned/digitized in accordance with a valid approval by Washington State Archives' legacy processes (Electronic Imaging System (EIS) or Early Destruction After Digitization (DAD)."

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 What are the records retention schedules?
Reviewed: 03/15

Records retention schedules are issued by the Local Records Committee to serve as the retention schedules and disposition authority for records held by local government agencies. The Local Records Committee is a committee which includes the state archivist, a representative appointed by the state auditor, and a representative appointed by the attorney general.

The records retention schedules may be applied directly by agencies as authority to destroy the records listed after the expiration of their approved retention periods. It requires no further authorization or approval.

The most recent versions of the Local Government Records Retention Schedules are available on the Washington State Archives website. Those documents are updated periodically.

In addition to the general records retention schedule applicable to local government agencies, there are retention schedules for some specific departments of local government agencies. Review the Records Management - Local Government page for further information.

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Are cities and counties required to create a document when responding to a specific request for public disclosure?
Reviewed: 03/15

No. A Court of Appeals decision has addressed this issue directly: Smith v. Okanogan County, decided 2/8/00.

There is no statute in the state PRA directly addressing this issue, but there is federal law on this issue. . . . Under the Freedom of Information Act, an agency is not required to create a record which is otherwise non-existent. See National Labor Relations Bd. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 421 U.S. 132, 161-62, 95 S. Ct. 1504, 44 L. Ed.2d 29 (1975). We agree and determine there is also no such duty under the state PRA.

Also see WAC 44-14-04003.

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How soon must a city respond to a request for public records?
Reviewed: 03/15

State law requires that responses to requests for public records be made "promptly." Specifically, cities and other governmental agencies must respond in writing within five business days of receiving a request by either: (1) providing the record; (2) providing an internet address and link on the agency's web site to the specific records requested...; (3) acknowledging receipt of the record and providing a reasonable estimate of the time in which a response will be made; or (4) denying the request. Additional response time beyond five days may be based upon a need to clarify the request, to locate and assemble the records requested, to notify people and agencies affected by the request, or to determine whether any of the requested records are exempt from disclosure. RCW 42.56.520. WAC 44-14-04003 discusses the required timely response and provides some commentary on providing a "reasonable estimate" of the time necessary to respond and on asking for a clarification of the request.

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Does a city have a duty to maintain public alleys? If yes, what is that duty?
Reviewed: 03/15

There appears to be no legal distinction between streets and alleys as to the rules that govern them. Though, Washington statutes do make some definitional distinctions between streets and alleys:
  • RCW 46.04.020 defines an "alley" as "a public highway not designated for general travel and used primarily as a means of access to the rear of the residence and business establishments." (My emphasis.)
  • RCW 46.04.120 defines "city street" as "every public highway, or part thereof located within the limits of cities and towns, except alleys." (My emphasis.)

Regardless of these definitional distinctions, case law considers alleys to be the same as streets, reflecting the general rule as stated in McQuillin, The Law of Municipal Corporations, §30:10 (2014):

Public alleys, like streets, are under the control of municipal authorities, and the prevailing rule is that there is no distinction, in law, between a public street and a public alley, and hence a public alley is governed by the rules applicable to streets...

The only Washington case law that we could find that squarely addresses whether there is any distinction between streets and alleys for purposes of the duty of care owed by a city is Ferguson v. Yakima, 139 Wash. 216, 219-20 (1926), where the court held:

The alleys in a city, platted and dedicated to public use, are as much public highways as are the streets therein. (Rem. Comp. Stat., § 9292 [P. C. § 1181]; Carroll v. Centralia Water Co., 5 Wash. 613, 32 Pac. 609, 33 P. 431.) They are under the control of the public authorities of such city (Rem. Comp. Stat., § 9294) [P. C. § 1267], and it is as much the duty of the city to keep them in repair for public use as it is its duty to keep in repair the highways more commonly called streets. In all instances, whether the highway be a street or alley, reasonable care in this regard must be exercised. What will constitute reasonable care, must, of course, vary with the circumstances. Reasonable care in the upkeep of an outlying and little used street might be gross negligence when applied to the much used streets in the more congested business portion of the city, but the legal duty is the same in every instance, the care exercised must be commensurate with the circumstances. The same rule applies to alleys. Little or no care in one instance might be reasonable care, while in another it would be gross negligence. It is, therefore, incorrect to say, as the trial court did say in the instruction given, that a city is not obliged to keep an alley in the same condition for travel as it is required to keep a street or a sidewalk. There is no such general rule. Instances are present in every city where acts and omissions in the care of an alley would be negligence, while the same acts and omissions would be reasonable care with respect to a street or sidewalk.

Nor is it a general rule that a person who travels upon or across an alley, whether in the night-time or daytime, must exercise a higher and greater degree of care for his own safety than when traveling upon or along a street or sidewalk. The traveler's duty in every instance is to exercise that degree of care the circumstances and conditions require; that is to say, he must exercise that degree of care a reasonably prudent person would exercise under like and similar circumstances.

Citing Ferguson v. Yakima, the court in Burkhard v. Bowen, 32 Wn.2d 613, 620 (1949), stated: "It would seem that this court has, for all practical purposes, treated alleys the same as roads, highways or streets."

In an unpublished court of appeals decision, Skubatch v. City of Seattle, No. 50202-6-I, 2003 Wash. App. LEXIS 72 (2003), the court, also citing Ferguson v. Yakima, held:

The City's standard of care, as enunciated in Keller, is to exercise ordinary care in the maintenance of its roadways in a reasonably safe manner for the foreseeable acts of those using the roadways 8 This same standard applies to the maintenance of alleys. 9

(Emphasis added. Footnote 9 cites Ferguson.)

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 How is a conditional use permit affected by the sale of the property for which the permit was issued?
Reviewed: 02/15

Although this is not addressed by statute or by case law in this state, our legal staff has opined that a conditional use approval typically runs with the land, rather than being personal to the applicant. Other authority and general principles of land use law support this conclusion. We have cited Rathkopf, The Law of Zoning and Planning, § 61:50 (citing authority from other states).

So, a change of ownership generally would not affect the status of a conditional use permit

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Must the city council approve a transfer between individual appropriations within one fund or can this be done administratively?


Reviewed: 02/15

Under state law, a transfer within the same fund can be accomplished administratively without council approval, unless your city has adopted specific regulations that limit the ability of the city administration to do this. RCW 35.33.121 provides in relevant part:  

Transfers between individual appropriations within any one fund may be made during the current fiscal year by order of the city's or town's chief administrative officer subject to such regulations, if any, as may be imposed by the city or town legislative body. Notwithstanding the provisions of RCW 43.09.210 or of any statute to the contrary, transfers, as herein authorized, may be made within the same fund regardless of the various offices, departments or divisions of the city or town which may be affected.

For code cities, see RCW 35A33.120.

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Does the county have the option to withdraw from fully planning under the GMA?
Reviewed: 02/15

The 2014 Legislature amended the GMA to allow certain counties to withdraw, within a limited time frame, from voluntary planning under the GMA. The withdrawal process is set forth in RCW 36.70A.040(2)(b)(i). Until December 31, 2015, counties that have voluntarily chosen to plan under the GMA may adopt a resolution removing the county and the cities located within the county from most GMA requirements, so long as:
1. The county has a population, as estimated by OFM, of 20,000 or fewer inhabitants at any time between 4/1/10 and 4/1/15;
2. The county has previously adopted a resolution indicating its intention to voluntary plan under the GMA; and
3. At least 60 days prior to adopting a resolution for partial planning, the county notifies in writing each city in the county of its intent to adopt a withdrawal resolution.

However, if 60 percent of the cities within the county that have an aggregate population of at least 75 percent of the incorporated county population adopt resolutions opposing the action and provide the county with written notice of the resolutions, the county cannot withdraw.
If the county adopts such a resolution to withdraw, it cannot adopt a resolution to fully comply with the GMA for a minimum of 10 years. 
The term "partial planning" used in this statute refers to the fact that counties/cities not fully planning under the GMA are still subject to certain requirements in the GMA.  As stated in the final bill report: 
The adoption of a resolution, however, does not nullify or otherwise modify requirements of the GMA for counties and cities relating to:
• designating natural resource lands;
• designating and protecting critical areas;
• employing the best available science in designating and protecting critical areas; and
• the rural element of a comprehensive plan.

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May a city or county amend its building code to provide for a hearing examiner in place of a building code board of appeals? If so, is State Building Code Council approval required for this type of amendment?
Reviewed: 02/15

Yes, it's our opinion that a city or county may amend the building code pursuant to the authority in RCW 19.27.040 to provide for a hearing examiner to perform the role of the board of appeals that is required under the International Building Code (IBC) and the International Fire Code (IFC), which are part of the state building code. That statute provides:

The governing body of each county or city is authorized to amend the state building code as it applies within the jurisdiction of the county or city. The minimum performance standards of the codes and the objectives enumerated in RCW 19.27.020 shall not be diminished by any county or city amendments.    

The IFC, at Sec. 108.1 and Sec. 108.3, provides:    

108.1 Board of appeals established. In order to hear and decide appeals of orders, decisions or determinations made by the fire code official relative to the application and interpretation of this code, there shall be and is hereby created a board of appeals. The board of appeals shall be appointed by the governing body and shall hold office at its pleasure. The fire code official shall be an ex officio member of said board but shall have no vote on any matter before the board. The board shall adopt rules of procedure for conducting its business, and shall render all decisions and findings in writing to the appellant with a duplicate copy to the fire code official

108.3 Qualifications. The board of appeals shall consist of members who are qualified by experience and training to pass on matters pertaining to hazards of fire, explosions, hazardous conditions or fire protection systems, and are not employees of the jurisdiction.

The IBC, at Sec. 113.1 and Sec. 113.3, provides:    

113.1 General. In order to hear and decide appeals of orders, decisions or determinations made by the building official relative to the application and interpretation of this code, there shall be and is hereby created a board of appeals. The board of appeals shall be appointed by the applicable governing authority and shall hold office at its pleasure. The board shall adopt rules of procedure for conducting its business.

113.3 Qualifications. The board of appeals shall consist of members who are qualified by experience and training to pass on matters pertaining to building construction and are not employees of the jurisdiction.

For many jurisdictions, particularly smaller ones, it may be difficult to have on hand qualified, multiple-member appeals boards as set out above. Any hearing examiner appointed in place of a board would, however, need to possess the qualifications as set out in IFC Sec. 108.3 and IBC 113.3, and it think it would likely be necessary to have two separate examiners, one for each code.

We don't think that State Building Code Council approval under RCW 19.27.060(1)(a) is required for an amendment like this. That statute requires that:

No amendment to a code enumerated in RCW 19.27.031 as amended and adopted by the state building code council that affects single-family or multifamily residential buildings shall be effective unless the amendment is approved by the building code council under RCW 19.27.074(1)(b).

Appointing hearing examiners in place of these boards of appeals does not in any way affect the code standards that affect single-family or multifamily residential buildings.

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