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Can a municipal utility charge a late fee to customers who say they didn't receive bill?
Reviewed: 10/15

Nothing in state law that addresses this. But we think it is a defensible (and common) policy, because utility customers, when assessed a late penalty, could otherwise simply state that they did not receive a billing and there would be no way for the utility to prove that they did. Sending all billings through registered mail would be cumbersome and expensive.

We recommend that the utility's policies clearly state this - that failure of customer to receive a billing mailed by the city does not prevent assessment of a late penalty.

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For a public records request: (1) can the city charge for the cost of a disc (audio or video); and (2) can the city pass on the cost of having the disc created if it does not have the ability to do that in-house?
Reviewed: 10/15

For a public records request, a city may charge for the actual cost of the disc used to contain the electronic public records requested. The best practice is to include such a fee in your city's fee schedule outlining the copying, scanning, and related charges associated with PRA requests.

Washington courts have upheld an agency's authority to impose reasonable charges pursuant to an established fee schedule. For example, in Gronquist v. Dep't of Corr., 159 Wn. App. 576, 583-84 (2011), the court explains in relevant part:

An agency shall not charge a fee for inspecting public records or for locating public documents and making them available for copying. RCW 42.56.120. But an agency may impose a reasonable charge for providing copies of public records, so long as the charges do not exceed the amount necessary to reimburse the agency for its actual costs incident to such copying. RCW 42.56.120.

So the key is to make sure that the fee schedule adopted is based on actual and reasonable costs associated with providing copies of public records, not including costs associated with the inspection of or time spent locating public records by city staff.

If the city doesn't have the capability itself to transfer the requested records to a disc or other electronic storage device, it may charge a reasonable fee to cover the actual costs of hiring a third party to do the work. For example, MRSC's Public Records Act Handbook states that "If a local government has to pay an outside source for making duplicates of records such as photographs, blueprints or tape recordings, those costs must be charged to the requestor."

Finally, here are some examples of fee schedules from agencies that identify the charge for the discs used in responding to public records requests:

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Can a school district act as a lead agency for SEPA compliance?
Reviewed: 09/15

Yes, a school district can (actually, should) act as the lead agency regarding a project it proposes. WAC 197-11-926(1) states in part:

When an agency initiates a proposal, it is the lead agency for that proposal. If two or more agencies share in the implementation of a proposal, the agencies shall by agreement determine which agency will be the lead agency.

"Agency" is defined in WAC 197-11-714(1) as follows:

"Agency" means any state or local governmental body, board, commission, department, or officer authorized to make law, hear contested cases, or otherwise take the actions stated in WAC 197-11-704, except the judiciary and state legislature. An agency is any state agency ( WAC 197-11-926) or local agency ( WAC 197-11-762).

"Local agency" under WAC 197-11-762, referenced above in WAC 197-11-714(1), is defined as "any political subdivision, regional governmental unit, district, municipal or public corporation, including cities, towns, and counties and their legislative bodies." (My emphasis.)

Lastly, WAC 197-11-704, also referenced above in WAC 197-11-714(1) (“any . . . local governmental body . . . authorized to . . . otherwise take the actions stated in WAC 197-11-704. . .”) includes within the definition of “project action”:

 . . . agency decisions to:
(i) . . . fund, or undertake any activity that will directly modify the environment, whether the activity will be conducted by the agency, an applicant, or under contract.

(Link to this question)

We authorized a councilmanic TBD fee of $20 over two years ago. Can we authorize another $20.00? When would the fee begin?
Reviewed: 09/15

Yes, the transportation benefit district (TBD) can authorize an additional, nonvoted (councilmanic) $20 license fee on August 2nd, per Section 309 of the 2015 transportation funding bill, . That section, which went into effect on July 15, amends RCW 36.73.065 to state that a TBD can increase that fee to $40 "if a vehicle fee of twenty dollars has been imposed for at least twenty-four months." The legislation does not directly define "imposed," but RCW 36.73.065(4) states in part that "A district that includes all the territory within the boundaries of the jurisdiction, or jurisdictions, establishing the district may impose by a majority vote of the governing board of the district the following fees and charges . . . ." (Our emphasis.) Based on that emphasized language, we conclude that it is the vote to authorize the license fee that "imposes" the fee.

As such, the additional $20 fee can now be authorized/imposed by the TBD, because more than two years have expired since the $20 fee was imposed. However, the Department of Licensing would not start collecting the fee until six months after it is imposed. See RCW 82.80.140(4) ("No fee under this section may be collected until six months after approval under RCW 36.73.065").

For more information on the 2015 legislation affecting TBDs, see New Legislation Affecting Transportation Benefit Districts, MRSC Insight, 8/6/2015.

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Can local governments regulate religious, political, or charitable solicitation?
Reviewed: 09/15

Cities may not impose licensing, permitting, or registration requirements on religious solicitations (Watchtower Bible and Tract Society v. Village of Stratton, 536 U.S. 150 (2002)), or on political and charitable solicitations (Peace Action Coalition v. City of Medina, Case No. C00-1811C (W.D. WA, 2000), but it may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on them. The First Amendment allows such restrictions on protected speech provided the restrictions "are justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech, that they are narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest, and that they leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information." Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781, 791 (1989).

We were unable to find a current link to the Peace Action Coalition decision, cited above, which was an unpublished order by the federal district court, but here is how we describe that decision on our Regulation of Peddlers, Solicitors, Temporary Merchants and Mobile Vendors webpage:

While there are no reported Washington court decisions on the validity of "Green River" ordinances, on November 3, 2000, U.S. District Court Judge John C. Coughenour issued an order (Peace Action Coalition v. City of Medina, Case No. C00-1811C) enjoining the city of Medina from enforcing its municipal ordinance regulating peddlers and solicitors.

The city of Medina had a requirement that all solicitors and peddlers must register with the police department and submit to a criminal background check. The lawsuit did not challenge the portion of the ordinance that regulated the conduct of commercial activities, defined as peddling. However, the judge did enjoin the portion of the ordinance that applied the registration/background checks to political, religious and charitable organizations. (A number of cities still do require a criminal background check to commercial solicitors.)

In the words of the court, "the relevant portions of the Medina Municipal Code constitute an improper prior restraint on speech protected by the First Amendment, and are impermissibly overbroad and vague, chilling constitutionally protected speech."

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Is there any statute or court decision that states that lateral utility lines connecting a private property to the municipality's main utility line are the responsibility of and owned by the private property owner -- not the city?
Reviewed: 08/15

We are not aware of any statute or case that directly address your question; however, MRSC has advised in the past that lateral utility lines, such as a side sewer, connecting private property to the municipality's main utility line are the responsibility of and owned by the private property owner, even if a portion of that line is located in the right-of-way.

Typically, a city right-of-way is only an easement, with the adjacent property owning the underlying fee title. Also, side sewers are installed at private, not public, expense by the developers/property owners who want sewer service to their private property. These side sewers serve a private, not a public, purpose in that they are benefitting private property interests and not the public sewer system as a whole. If the city assumes responsibility for side sewer repair or replacement, it could be considered a gift of public funds, contrary to article 8, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution, unless the city can show that the private benefit resulting from city improvements to the side sewers is merely incidental to the resulting public benefit, such as increasing sewer capacity. See AGO 2009 No. 5.

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Looking for recommended requirements for petty cash handling and department self-audits.
Reviewed: 08/15

Internal controls, including those for petty cash funds are an integral part of any organization's financial and business policies and procedures. The use of petty cash funds should be limited by your organization.

The Association of Public Treasurers' Guide to Internal Controls section on petty cash funds states that internal controls for these funds should include the following:

  • The petty cash fund should be locked in a secure place.
  • Access to petty cash should be restricted to the custodian and the backup person; and disbursed by these two individuals as well.
  • Require original receipts in order to disburse petty cash and maintain the receipts in the petty cash fund box for reconciling.
  • The individual to be reimbursed should indicate on the original receipt or petty cash receipt the business purpose and the fund and the account to be charged.
  • The original receipt should be approved and signed by the department head.
  • The petty cash fund should not be used for personal expenses, personal loans, or cashing of personal checks.
  • The custodian of the petty cash fund is responsible for reconciling the petty cash fund account.
  • The department head should perform periodic, surprise counts of the petty cash fund.
  • Any shortage in the fund should be investigated, analyzed, and documented.

Additionally, the petty cash fund should be evaluated to determine if a procurement card may be of better use for the organization.

Departmental self-audits are done to improve internal control and are the responsibility of management. They should be done to evaluate whether policies and procedures are operating efficiently and also provide recommendations for improvement.

The MRSC webpage on Petty Cash Funds includes information on petty cash policies per the BARS Manual and includes code provisions.

The Washington State Auditor's Office Local Government Performance Center, Internal Controls Checklist for Local Governments, is a great departmental self-assessment in which you can use to evaluate areas in which new policies or improvements are needed.

Additionally, the Association of Public Treasurers' Guide to Internal Controls is a guidebook that can be purchased on the Association's website. This guidebook could be used to implement internal control functions agency-wide.

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What is ordinary maintenance, and is it considered public work?
Reviewed: 08/15

The definition of "public work" in RCW 39.04.010(4) excludes "ordinary maintenance":

(4) "Public work" means all work, construction, alteration, repair, or improvement other than ordinary maintenance …

However, that’s not the end of the story. “Ordinary maintenance” is not defined by statute, but a regulation adopted by the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), WAC 296-127-010(7)(b)(iii), defines it as follows, for purposes of prevailing wage requirements:

7(b)(iii) Ordinary maintenance which is defined as work not performed by contract and that is performed on a regularly scheduled basis (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, semiannually, but not less frequently than once per year), to service, check, or replace items that are not broken; or work not performed by contract that is not regularly scheduled but is required to maintain the asset so that repair does not become necessary.

(Emphasis added.) Under this definition, for example, programmatic tree trimming and cleaning catch basins and sewer/storm mains would be ordinary maintenance, if performed by agency forces.

So, what about ordinary maintenance that is contracted out?

Under L&I’s definition above, ordinary maintenance that is contracted out is subject to prevailing wage requirements, which is what L&I cares about. In Spokane v. Department of Labor and Industries, 100 Wn. App. 805, 819-20 (2000), the state court of appeals approved of L&I’s definition and concluded that ordinary maintenance, when performed by contract, is "public work" subject to prevailing wage law.

But, is ordinary maintenance when performed by contract considered a “public work” for all other purposes – bid limits, bonds, and retainage? We think likely so, because there are not really two types of “public work,” one subject only to prevailing wages and the other also subject to all the other requirements that otherwise apply to public works. Although some agencies and their attorneys take the position that contracted ordinary maintenance is not a public work except for prevailing wage purposes, the safer position is, of course, to treat contracted ordinary maintenance as a public work to which the following apply: prevailing wages, bid and performance bonds, retainage, and competitive bidding if above the applicable statutory threshold for bids.

MRSC's position is that agencies should approach all maintenance projects conservatively and treat them as public works, subject to prevailing wages and all other public works requirements. Except for relatively small contracts, competitive bids or quotes are good business practices. And if your agency subscribes to the position that contracted ordinary maintenance is not a public work except for prevailing wage purposes, you lose the protection that bonding and retainage provide.

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Request for examples of rental housing licensing programs.
Reviewed: 08/15

Please see the following code provisions establishing such programs:

  • Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Ch. 15.45 - Residential Rental Business License and Inspection Program
  • Toppenish Municipal Code Ch. 5.35 - Residential Rental Units
  • Prosser Municipal Code Ch. 15.30 - Rental Licenses
  • Sunnyside Municipal Code Ch. 5.02 - Residential Rental Units – Licensing – Crime Free Rental Housing Program

The 2010 Legislature specifically authorized local rental inspection programs, subject to certain requirements. See RCW 59.18.125. Cities adopting a rental inspection/licensing ordinance must comply with RCW 59.18.125.

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When a request for records has been abandoned (more than 30 days has gone by after notification that the requested records are available or more than 30 days has gone by without an answer to a request for clarification), what if any notification needs to be sent to the requestor?
Reviewed: 08/15

In our opinion, the county should send a closing letter informing the requestor that the request was closed and the reason why. We base our opinion on the guidance offered by the following provision of the Attorney General's Model Rules for the Public Records Act:

A records request has been fulfilled and can be closed when a requestor has inspected all the requested records, all copies have been provided, a web link has been provided (with assistance from the agency in finding it, if necessary), an unclear request has not been clarified, a request or installment has not been claimed or reviewed, or the requestor cancels the request. An agency should provide a closing letter stating the scope of the request and memorializing the outcome of the request. A closing letter may not be necessary for smaller requests. The outcome described in the closing letter might be that the requestor inspected records, copies were provided (with the number range of the stamped or labeled records, if applicable), the agency sent the requestor the web link, the requestor failed to clarify the request, the requestor failed to claim or review the records within thirty days, or the requestor canceled the request. The closing letter should also ask the requestor to promptly contact the agency if he or she believes additional responsive records have not been provided.

WAC 44-14-04006(1) (emphasis added).

Although this model rule states that a closing letter may not be necessary for smaller requests, MRSC recommends that a closing letter be sent for all records requests, regardless of size, in order to notify the requestor of their abandonment of the request.

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Can the city hire an outside firm to assist in going through the city's records to meet a PRA request?  If yes, can the city charge the requestor for the actual cost for this service?
Reviewed: 08/15

Yes, the city may hire an outside firm to help it meet the request, but the city may not charge the requestor the cost of hiring the outside firm.

The PRA, at RCW 42.56.120, states: No fee shall be charged for the inspection of public records.  No fee shall be charged for locating public documents and making them available for copying. A reasonable charge may be imposed for providing copies of public records . . .

(Our emphasis.)

If the city has limited staff to devote to the request and has other important time commitments that should be taken into account in providing the requestor with the reasonable estimate of the time it will take to respond to her request. There is no required time period in which the city is required to provide the records for inspection or copying, although it does have the five-day initial response requirement, per RCW 42.56.520 and as noted on the city's records request form.

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Must members of a city public facilities district board of directors be city residents?
Reviewed: 07/15

State law does not require that the members of a public facilities district (PFD) board of directors be city residents. RCW 35.57.010((3)(a), which addresses the board of directors of a single-city PFD, states in relevant part as follows:

A public facilities district created by a single city or town shall be governed by a board of directors consisting of five members selected as follows: (i) Two members appointed by the legislative authority of the city or town; and (ii) three members appointed by legislative authority based on recommendations from local organizations. The members appointed under (a)(i) of this subsection, shall not be members of the legislative authority of the city or town. The members appointed under (a)(ii) of this subsection, must be based on recommendations received from local organizations that may include, but are not limited to the local chamber of commerce, local economic development council, and local labor council.

As you can see, the quoted language does not impose any residency requirements.

However, the city ordinance creating the PFD may establish residency requirements, so you should check that ordinance, if you have not already done so.

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Can lodging tax revenues be used to purchase fireworks for 4th of July activities?
Reviewed: 07/15

RCW 67.28.1816 allows lodging tax revenues to be spent for "tourist promotion," and RCW 67.28.080(6) defines that term to include "the operation of special events and festivals designed to attract tourists." A fireworks display for 4th of July activities can, in our opinion, qualify as part of the operation of a special event to attract tourists as well as local residents. The 4th of July event should, however, be intended to draw tourists to the city and be more than just a local celebration.

MRSC has a webpage on the lodging tax that you may find helpful.

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Request for information on regulating the keeping of chickens in residential zones.
Reviewed: 07/15

First, you may want to take a look at our web page on "Regulating Livestock and Other Farm Animals." This page includes several city code provisions regulating animals, including chickens.

See also:

Here are a few sample ordinance and code provisions regulating the keeping of chickens:

If you would like to review more examples, you can search for the keyword "chickens" on Code Publishing's multiple code search tool. Be sure to check the "Washington" box before you start the search so you can limit your results to Washington cities and towns.

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May a governing body go into executive session even if it is not on the meeting agenda?
Reviewed: 07/15

Yes. However, if a governing body intends in advance of a regular meeting to hold an executive session, it should be listed on the agenda for the regular meeting. Under RCW 42.30.077, that agenda must be made available online at least 24 hours in advance of the regular meeting, unless the agency does not have a website or if it employs fewer than 10 full-time equivalent employees. This requirement does not, however, prevent a governing body from holding an executive session when it is not listed on the meeting agenda. The need to hold an executive session may arise during the course of a meeting – or the executive session may have been inadvertently left off the meeting agenda.

If the executive session is intended to be held at a special meeting, it should be listed on the notice of the special meeting. RCW 42.30.080 sets out the requirements for special meeting notice. But, as with a regular meeting, the need to hold an executive session may arise during the course of a special meeting, and a governing body may hold an executive session at a special meeting even if it is not listed on the meeting notice. RCW 42.30.080 states that a governing body may not take final action in a special meeting on a matter not listed on the meeting notice, but a governing body may not take final action on any matter in executive session.

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May the council meet in executive session to finalize questions to ask candidates for appointment to fill a council vacancy?
Reviewed: 07/15

No. There is no provision in RCW 42.30.110, which authorizes executive sessions, that would allow a closed meeting to finalize questions to ask candidates who want to fill a council vacancy. The closest provision would be that which allows an executive session to consider the qualifications of candidates for appointment to fill a council vacancy. However, the exceptions to open meetings are to be narrowly construed, and discussing questions to ask candidates at an oral interview is distinguishable from a discussion of candidate qualifications.

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If a city publishes an interlocal agreement on its website to satisfy the requirements of RCW 39.34.040, must that agreement remain posted on the website after the agreement is no longer in effect? Can superseded and expired interlocal agreements be removed from the city's website?
Reviewed: 07/15

Since RCW 39.34.040 does not specify how long an agreement must remain on an agency's website, we think the city has discretion as to how long to keep it posted. Removing an agreement from the website when it expires or is superseded seems like a sensible policy to us.

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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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