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Lessons Learned from Snowmaggedon

Lessons Learned from Snowmaggedon

Snow days for days. Everything is canceled. Sledding on city streets. Cars in ditches...

Most likely, your jurisdiction was impacted by the recent snowfalls. While we had recently compiled some of MRSC’s winter-related content in the Let’s Talk Winter blog post, additional issues nevertheless came up. This blog post will address a few of the frequently asked questions MRSC received during “Snowmageddon”—as well as look to you, the readers, for your lessons learned.

Inclement Weather Policies

What happens when you must close the office because roads are impassible? Do the employees get paid? May staff telecommute instead?

Ideally, local governments have adopted comprehensive personnel policies that address these issues. If not, challenges could arise. For example, without a policy addressing closures for inclement weather, staff will likely need to take vacation, compensatory time, or unpaid leave—because paying employees for time not worked would implicate the prohibition on gifting of public funds.

On the other hand, a policy could establish that employees be paid under certain closure scenarios and the prohibition on gift of public funds would not be implicated. When a reasonable policy is in place, this is considered a benefit of employment and part of the overall compensation package for employees.

Here are some sample policies addressing inclement weather conditions, office closures, and employee pay:

Each of these policies provides for paid leave for employees when an office closure decision has been made. Prior to a closure decision, these policies provide for use of available leave or leave without pay when employees are unable to travel safely to work. Again, the key to providing paid leave due to weather-related office closures is to have such policies in place prior to the event, such that the leave will be considered a component of compensation and not a gift of funds.

Note that not all policies provide for paid leave during declared closures. Some policies provide for use of available leave or leave without pay (see, e.g., Issaquah Personnel Policies, Sec. 4.3.2).

Declarations of Emergency

The snow and ice have caused massive power outages and the city needs to get equipment and supplies dispatched ASAP. There’s no time to follow the normal procurement/contracting procedures—What do we do?

State law authorizes local officials to declare a state of emergency under certain circumstances, which allows local governments to bypass procedural requirements related to expenditures and contracting. Again, MRSC’s topic page Local Government Emergency Planning includes a list of these statutes, as well as a number of example resolutions/declarations of emergencies.

It’s too Cold to Sleep Outside

What can we do for folks who may have nowhere to go?

It’s important to have plans in place for the provision of emergency shelter for homeless individuals during severe weather events. MRSC's Public Policy Consultant Byron Katsuyama wrote a blog post in December 2018 titled Winter Weather Shelter Programs for the Homeless that summarizes some successful regional shelter programs and links to code examples.

We Want to Hear from YOU!

What lessons did you learn during the recent winter weather events? What went right? Anything go wrong? What type of information would be helpful to have on hand for the next big storm? Tell us about it in the comment form below or email me. We will take your feedback and examples to enhance our weather-related resources.

Questions? Comments?

If you have questions about this or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772.

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.

Photo of Jill Dvorkin

About Jill Dvorkin

Jill joined MRSC as a legal consultant in June 2016 after working for nine years as a civil deputy prosecuting attorney for Skagit County. At Skagit County, Jill advised the planning department on a wide variety of issues including permit processing and appeals, Growth Management Act (GMA) compliance, code enforcement, SEPA, legislative process, and public records. Jill was born and raised in Fargo, ND, then moved to Bellingham to attend college and experience a new part of the country (and mountains!). She earned a B.A. in Environmental Policy and Planning from Western Washington University and graduated with a J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 2003.