This page provides information about biennial budgeting for cities, counties, and special purpose districts in Washington State, including relevant statutes, examples of biennial budget ordinances and planning calendars, and a list of cities and counties that use biennial budgets.
It is part of MRSC's series on Budgeting in Washington State.
Most cities, towns, and counties in Washington operate under an annual budget, but some budget on a biennial (two-year) basis. Some special purpose districts also have the authority to budget on a biennial basis.
Commonly cited advantages of biennial budgets include:
- Reducing the total amount of time spent budgeting over a two-year period and freeing up time for other projects in year two,
- Encouraging the jurisdiction to think strategically over multiple years instead of just balancing the budget for a single year, and
- For cities in particular, de-politicizing the budget somewhat because under state law cities may only adopt biennial budgets in even-numbered (non-election) years.
Commonly cited disadvantages include:
- More time and effort required to develop the budget in year one,
- A perceived loss of control by the legislative body, since they are approving the budget for two years at a time,
- More difficulty and uncertainty forecasting revenues/expenditures further into the future, and
- Some jurisdictions spending too much time on budget amendments or the mid-biennium review and adjustment, eliminating any time savings in year two.
For more information about the pros and cons of biennial budgeting, refer to Biennial Budgets in Washington's Cities and Counties – Revisited, excerpted from MRSC's 2014 Budget Suggestions publication.
Any cities and towns may begin budgeting on a biennial basis if desired (see Ch. 35A.34 RCW for code cities and Ch. 35.34 RCW for all other cities and towns). By statute, the biennial fiscal period must start on January 1 of an odd-numbered year and end on December 31 of the following even-numbered year.
Cities that budget on a biennial basis must adopt a budget no later than December 31 of the preceding even-numbered year. For detailed deadlines, procedures, and practice tips, see our pages on City and Town Budget Procedures and City and Town Budget Calendar.
Adopting a Biennial Budget Process
Any city or town that currently budgets on an annual basis and wants to switch to a biennial budget process must pass an ordinance to that effect no later than June 30 of the preceding even-numbered year, six months before the beginning of the fiscal biennium (RCW 35A.34.040/RCW 35.34.040).
Reverting to an Annual Budget Process
Any city or town may revert to an annual budget process by repealing the ordinance that established the biennial process (RCW 35A.34.040/RCW 35.34.040). The repeal must take effect at the end of a fiscal biennium (December 31 of an even-numbered year); cities and towns may not abandon the biennial budget process halfway through the biennium. During the final (even-numbered) year of the biennium, the city or town would then prepare and adopt an annual budget to take effect January 1 of the following (odd-numbered) year.
Examples of City Biennial Budgets
Ordinances Adopting Biennial Budget Process
- Anacortes Ordinance No. 2973 (2016)
- Arlington Ordinance 2016-005 (2016)
- Issaquah Ordinance No. 2973 (2022) – Concise ordinance
- Shoreline Ordinance No. 816 (2018) – Includes housekeeping amendments to municipal code to make other sections consistent with biennial budget process
Ordinances Reverting to Annual Budget Process
- Anacortes Ordinance No. 3073 (2020) – Reverting from biennial budget process to annual budget process due to significant financial uncertainty and the need to closely monitor and respond to the situation
- Sunnyside Ordinance No. 2012-18 (2012) – Reverting to annual budget process after just two years due to demands of mid-biennium adjustment process and significant annual increases in facility costs and labor contracts
Biennial Budget Calendars
- Federal Way Mid-Biennium Adjustment Calendar (2017) – Includes study session, public hearing, and property tax rate setting for mid-biennium budget adjustment
- Kennewick Budget Preparation Calendar (2018) – Calendar for initial biennial budget; includes helpful notes indicating which steps have required statutory deadlines
- Kent Budget Preparation Calendar (2016) – Calendar for initial 2017-2018 budget, beginning with internal service baseline meetings in January; does not include mid-biennium adjustment.
- Leavenworth Biennial Budget Preparation Calendar (2019) – Includes initial city biennial budget as well as mid-biennium adjustment. Also includes calendars for transportation benefit district (biennial) and park & recreation service area (annual) budgets.
- Lynnwood Resolution Nos. 2018-02 and 2019-02 (2018-2019) – Two separate resolutions: one establishing initial biennial budget calendar beginning with council retreat at beginning of year, and the other establishing a mid-biennium adjustment calendar.
- Bainbridge Island 2019-2020 Adopted Budget – City has repeatedly received GFOA Distinguished Budget Awards
- Leavenworth 2019-2020 Budget
- Sammamish Budget Documents – City has repeatedly received GFOA Distinguished Budget Awards
- West Richland 2019-2020 Biennial Budget – City has repeatedly received GFOA Distinguished Budget Awards
List of Cities with Biennial Budgets
Below is a list of cities that MRSC is currently aware of that use a biennial budget.
- Bainbridge Island
- Benton City
- Bonney Lake
- Federal Way
- Lake Forest Park
- Maple Valley
- Mercer Island
- Mill Creek
- Mountlake Terrace
- Normandy Park
- North Bend
- Oak Harbor
- Ocean Shores
- Port Orchard
- University Place
- Walla Walla
- West Richland
Any county may adopt a biennial budget (RCW 36.40.250). Unlike cities, counties may start the biennium on January 1 of any year.
For detailed budget preparation deadlines, procedures, and practice tips, see our pages County Budget Procedures and County Budget Calendar. In addition, each county adopting a biennial budget must provide for a mid-biennial budget review and modification for the second year of the budget cycle. The modification must be adopted by resolution or ordinance. No exact deadline is provided, but in practice the budget should be reviewed and modified by the end of the first year of the biennial budget cycle.
The statute also provides an option for counties to adopt a biennial budget for some funds – with the same mandatory mid-biennium adjustment – and an annual budget for others.
Adopting a Biennial Budget Process
Any county that currently budgets on an annual basis and wants to switch to a biennial budget process must pass a resolution or ordinance to that effect (RCW 36.40.250). Unlike cities, the county statute gives no indication of when this ordinance or resolution must be passed. Practically speaking, it probably needs to be done no later than April 1 so that the request for budget proposals to county officials and department heads can outline the change and allow sufficient time to prepare the estimates that are due to the auditor in August.
Reverting to an Annual Budget Process
Any county may revert to an annual budget process by repealing the ordinance that established the biennial process (RCW 36.40.250). The repeal must take effect at the end of a fiscal biennium; counties may not abandon the biennial budget process halfway through the biennium. During the final year of the biennium, the county would then prepare and adopt an annual budget to take effect January 1 of the following year.
Examples of County Biennial Budgets
Ordinances Adopting a Biennial Budget Process
- Jefferson County Ordinance No. 03 0311 19 (2019) – Non-charter county switching to biennial budget beginning with 2020-2021 budget, with mid-biennium modification taking place between August 1 and December 31 of the first year.
- King County – Charter county gradually implemented biennial budgeting over a period of more than 10 years, beginning with a charter amendment in 2002 and culminating with the adoption of the 2015-2016 budget.
- Ordinance No. 14758 (2002) – Submitting proposed charter amendment to voters to allow biennial budgeting in an attempt to address structural budget deficits.
- Ordinance No. 15545 (2006) – Authorizing the county to adopt biennial budgets for funds as determined by the county council. Includes staff report identifying key issues to consider regarding biennial budgeting.
- Motion No. 12465 (2007) – Designating transit division as the pilot agency for biennial budgeting.
- Motion No. 12941 (2009) – Extending pilot program to include entire transportation department; includes staff report.
- Motion No. 13431 (2011) – Phasing in biennial budgeting for all remaining county departments over the next three biennia; includes staff report.
- Kitsap County Ordinance No. 271-2002 (2002) – Non-charter county switching to biennial budget beginning with 2002-2003 budget, with mid-biennium modification concluding no later than the end of the first quarter of the second year.
- San Juan County Ordinance No. 08-2019 (2019) – Submitting proposed charter amendment to voters to allow the county council the flexibility to adopt either an annual or a biennial budget as desired; includes proposed revisions to county charter language.
- Whatcom County Ordinance No. 2008-026 (2008) – Charter county switching to biennial budget process, with proposed mid-biennium modification due by the third week of October of the first year.
Biennial Budget Calendars
- Cowlitz County Budget Preparation Calendar (2017) – Calendar for preparing initial biennial budget, culminating with the alternate budget hearing and adoption dates in December; does not include mid-biennium budget adjustment
- Benton County Budget Documents – County has repeatedly received GFOA Distinguished Budget Awards
- Clark County 2017-2018 Budget – Retained as an example, but note that Clark County switched to an annual budget process beginning with the 2019 budget
- Cowlitz County 2022 Budget
- Whatcom County 2023-2024 Biennial Budget
List of Counties with Biennial Budgets
Most counties use an annual budget; below is a list of counties that MRSC is currently aware of that adopt a biennial budget. Clark County used a biennial budget until recently but reverted to an annual budget beginning with the 2019 budget year "for easier budget forecasting and time-saving efficiencies."
- Benton County
- Cowlitz County
- Jefferson County
- King County
- Pierce County
- San Juan County
- Thurston County
- Whatcom County
Most special purpose district statutes are silent on the issue of biennial budgets. However, in 2015 the state legislature passed legislation authorizing fire districts to adopt biennial budgets:
- Fire protection districts – RCW 52.16.030
- Regional fire protection service authorities – RCW 52.26.310
If a district’s statutes require an annual budget and are silent on biennial budgets, the district must adopt an annual budget. For instance, the following districts all have annual budget requirements with no mention of a biennial budget:
- Park and recreation districts – RCW 36.69.160
- Park and recreation service areas – RCW 36.68.530
- Port districts – Ch. 53.35 RCW
- Public hospital districts – RCW 70.44.060(6)
However, if the district has no specific budgetary requirements in statute – such as a water-sewer district – it may adopt budget policies as a fiscal management tool (which would be considered a best practice) that could include a biennial budget process.
Examples of Special Purpose District Biennial Budgets
- Alderwood Water and Wastewater District 2018-2019 Biennial Budget
- North City Water District 2019-2020 Biennial Budget
- Valley Communications Center 2019-2020 Biennial Budget
- Mike Bailey: Biennial Budgets in Washington's Cities and Counties - Revisited (2013) - Article written by Redmond's finance director, excerpted from MRSC's 2014 Budget Suggestions. Good overview of pros and cons of biennial budgeting.
- Government Finance Officers Association: Improving the Effectiveness of Multi-Year Fiscal Planning (2014) - Particularly useful for jurisdictions that use biennial budgets