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Quick Questions, Quick Answers

I recently paged through the MRSC database. Some of the questions and answers I found may be of interest to all local governments. I’m setting out a few examples of questions and short answers that may be of useful.

Must sales tax be paid when public records are provided to a requesting party?

No. RCW 82.12.02525 provides in part:

The provisions of this [sales and use tax] chapter do not apply with respect to the use of public records sold by state and local agencies, as the terms are defined in RCW 42.56.010.

Must a board or council video- or audio- record its meetings?

We are not aware of any statute that requires the recording of all meetings. When considering some kinds of issues, though, a recording may be advisable needed. If the governing body is conducting a hearing or is considering a quasi-judicial matter (e.g., zone change, street or road vacation, or variance request), Washington courts have held that a verbatim (word for word) record is required to prepare an adequate record for review by the courts, if a challenge is later brought. A court reporter could be used to prepare a transcript, but the use of audio or video recording would likely be less costly. Of course, audio or video recordings can be helpful to those who prepare the meeting minutes.

May a local government restrict how tapes of it meetings, obtained under a public records’ request, be used?

No, they cannot. A video recording is a public record and it must be made available for public inspection and copying. Access cannot be limited to those who agree to sign an agreement setting out restrictions on the use of the video. Once a citizen has obtained a copy of the video, the copy belongs to him or her, and it may be used in any manner that does not violate any other general law or restriction. See, also, WAC 44-14-03006 (in most instances, an agency may not ask the purpose for which the record is being requested).

Are Social Security numbers confidential?

Yes. 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I) provides:

Social security account numbers and related records that are obtained or maintained by authorized persons pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990, shall be confidential, and no authorized person shall disclose any such social security account number or related record.

Also, RCW 42.56.230(2) exempts personal information from disclosure, including social security numbers.

Are donations to a local government tax deductible?

Yes. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Code, 26 U.S.C. §170(c)(1) defines "charitable contribution" (which is tax deductible) to include "a contribution or gift to or for the use of":

A State, a possession of the United States, or any political subdivision of any of the foregoing, or the United States or the District of Columbia, but only if the contribution or gift is made for exclusively public purposes.

More information can be found in IRS Publication No. 1771, "Charitable Contributions – Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements."

Must a local government comply with the Building Code?

Yes. RCW 19.27.060(2) provides:

Except as permitted or provided otherwise under this section, the state building code shall be applicable to all buildings and structures including those owned by the state or by any governmental subdivision or unit of local government.

Must a local government that provides utility services pay for its own use of such services?

Yes. The jurisdiction’s utility fund must receive full value for services it provides, even to itself. See RCW 43.09.210.


Not every question can be answered with a short answer. The answer for many questions may be fact-driven, with the answer dependent upon the facts involved. That’s where MRSC comes in. If you have a question that is troubling you, call or email MRSC and we will try to develop a response that you can use and/or review with your legal counsel. MRSC exists so it can be of assistance. Contact us.

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 Paul Sullivan

About Paul Sullivan

Paul worked with many local governments and authored numerous MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operations in his many years at MRSC. He is now retired.