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Budget Hearings: How Many Do You Need to Hold?

October 11, 2019  by  Toni Nelson
Category:  Budgets and Budgeting Legislative Body

Budget Hearings: How Many Do You Need to Hold?

(Originally published in 2015, this post has been reviewed and update for 2019.)

Here at MRSC, one question we get asked often this time of year is: “How many public hearings are required for the budget process?” The answer depends on government type, and below is a brief guide to help you understand the requirements for your particular jurisdiction.

Public Hearing for Setting Property Tax Levy

The one common denominator for all local governments that impose regular property tax levies is that you will be required to hold a public hearing on the setting of your levy (RCW 84.55.120). This is, technically, not a hearing on the budget, but it directly relates to budgetary matters.

For the purposes of the coming year's budget this hearing must consider revenue sources, including possible increases in property tax revenues. Local governments may choose to use the same meeting to pass an ordinance or resolution authorizing a property tax increase in terms of dollars and percent, to comply with Referendum 47. Keep in mind that the deadline for adoption of a property tax levy and certification to the county assessor is November 30.

Public Hearings for Budgets

City and Town Requirements

The statutes RCW 35.33.057RCW 35.34.090(2), RCW 35A.33.055, and RCW 35A.34.090(2) govern budgets for cities and towns. These statutes require cities and towns to hold public hearings on the preliminary budget prior to the hearing on the final budget.

Prior to the final hearing on the budget, the legislative body or a committee thereof shall schedule; hearings on the budget or parts thereof, and may require the presence of department heads to give information regarding estimates and programs. [Emphasis added, note plural.]

The statutes do not specify a specific number of hearings that must be held, but it has long been the opinion of MRSC that because the statute refers to “hearings” in the plural it implies there should be more than one. The statute additionally states that the hearings shall be “on the budget or parts thereof,” which allows cities and towns to use the property tax hearing to fulfill one of the preliminary hearing requirements. With the utilization of the property tax hearing as one of the preliminary hearings, there would be one remaining preliminary hearing to meet the intent of the statute. Typically, these preliminary budget hearings are held sometime during the month of November.

Additionally, the city or town clerk must publish notice that the preliminary budget has been filed and then must publish a notice of public hearing on the final budget once a week for two consecutive weeks in the jurisdiction’s official newspaper (RCW 35.33.061RCW 35.34.100RCW 35A.33.060, and RCW 35A.34.100).

The public hearing for the final budget must take place on or before the first Monday in December, or December 2, 2019 - this year (RCW 35.33.071RCW 35.34.110RCW 35A.33.070, and RCW 35A.34.110). The final hearing may be continued from day-to-day but should not go beyond the 25th day prior to next fiscal year, which is December 7, 2019.

County and Port District Requirements

The statutes governing budgets for counties (RCW 36.40.060) and port districts (RCW 53.35.020) state that the commissioners must publish notice that the preliminary budget has been prepared, filed, and is available to the public, but you will note that there is no requirement to hold a public hearing on the preliminary budget.

RCW 36.40.060 requires that counties publish the notice of public hearing on the final budget once a week for two consecutive weeks in the county’s official newspaper. RCW 53.35.020 requires that port districts publish that notice in a legal newspaper of the district, although if there is none, in any newspaper of general circulation in the county. The first publication should not to be less than 9 days nor more than 20 days prior to the date of the hearing.

For counties, the public hearing for the final budget must be held by on or before the first Monday in October (RCW 36.40.070) or, alternatively, on the first Monday in December (RCW 36.40.071). It should be noted that counties may continue the final budget hearing day-to-day, however the hearings cannot exceed five days.

For port districts, the public hearing for the final budget must be held no earlier than September 15th and no later than the first Tuesday following the first Monday in October (RCW 53.35.030) or, alternatively, prior to the first Monday in December (RCW 53.35.045).

Special Purpose Districts Requirements (Other than Port Districts)

Some special purpose districts, such as hospital districts (RCW 70.44.060(6)) and public utility districts (RCW 54.16.080), must hold a public hearing on the proposed budget — but not on the “final” budget. Prior to the hearing (set within the times specified in those statutes), notice of the proposed budget must be published at least once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation within the county in which the district is located. After conclusion of the hearing, the district must adopt the final budget.

Though a public hearing is not required for most special districts in the state, MRSC recommends that all special districts hold at least one hearing on their budget.

Budget Resources

To learn more about the budget process, take a look at MRSC's extensive resources on our page Budgeting in Washington State.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Toni Nelson

Toni worked with many local governments and authored numerous MRSC publications on budgeting, cash basis accounting and reporting, and the application of Washington State B.A.R.S. requirements. During her time at MRSC, she also conducted multiple trainings annually on similar subjects and was consider an expert in small city finance issues. She retired in 2020.



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