Navigating the COVID-19 situation: Information for conservation districts

Last updated: March 30, 11:27 am.   Look for this symbol  to find sections with content that’s been updated within the last few days.

Conservation districts, the Washington State Conservation Commission, and the Washington Association of Conservation Districts are navigating the state’s COVID-19 coronavirus response together.

On this page we’ll compile resources and answers to “FAQs” for conservation districts to help prepare for and mitigate potential impacts to operations.

The COVID-19 situation is rapidly evolving, and cases are confirmed in new areas across Washington daily. Public entities, including conservation districts, are encouraged to be proactive in preparing for, mitigating, and responding to this pandemic.

This page will be updated as new information and resources are available.

EXTERNAL RESOURCES AND GUIDANCE
General
Operations
Mobile work/telework
Open public meetings
Staff/employee well-being
EXAMPLES AND TEMPLATES
General
Mobile work/telework
 Agricultural services
 Education
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

We’ll update this list of FAQs regularly. Click the question, and the answer will open underneath.

Staff/teleworking/staff activities
Is there any guidance available for conservation districts on the Governor's Stay Home, Stay Safe proclamation and what constitutes essential activities/business services?
  • The Conservation Commission sought guidance from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General (AG) that you can read here. Ultimately, these decisions are up to individual districts. The SCC does not have the legal authority to designate organizations or staff within organizations as “essential.” However, the guidance from the AG’s office should help.
If CD staff are unable to perform their job duties via telework or other allowable methods due to the coronavirus outbreak, can paid leave for those staff be billed to SCC grants?
  • Not at this time. SCC funding is governed by specific requirements, and we are answerable to the Office of Management Management, the State Auditor’s Office, and the legislature on how the funds are spent. If the governor provides a directive or flexibility, this may be allowable in the future, but there are no guarantees. A district may choose to allow staff to utilize accrued sick or vacation leave. Other options for CD employees can be found on the Employment Security Department web page of COVID-19 resources.
 Board/CD operations
How should CDs be conducting board meetings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus? What do districts need to keep in mind?
  • How to approach a board meeting is something that districts should be considering during this time. While it’s important to consider if a meeting is really necessary, it is recognized that, especially in the early stages of navigating the coronavirus pandemic, there may be instances where official business may need to be conducted. Many districts are implementing options to minimize risk during board meetings, including (but not limited to):
    • Utilizing remote attendance technology.
    • Limiting meetings to only critical business to shorten meetings to the extent possible.
    • Exploring board actions to facilitate efficient conduct of district business between meetings (such as temporary delegation of authorities, etc.).
  • MRSC has provided guidance for holding public meetings in their FAQs. It also might be helpful to review the MRSC Practice Tips regarding special and emergency meetings.
  • On March 24, the Governor released Proclamation 20-28 related to the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and Public Records Act. Highlights of the Proclamation are:
    • The proclamation temporarily suspends OPMA language requiring agencies to provide a physical location for the public to attend meetings in-person. Instead, while the public must continue to be permitted to attend the meetings, they can attend only remotely (not in-person).
    • Only Remote Attendance by Public. To implement the proclamation, Districts will need to arrange for remote attendance by the public at meetings subject to the OPMA, if they have not already done so. Those include a telephone conference call-in set up at minimum, and may include other electronic means of remote access such as electronic, web-based internet, or other means.  The means need to provide for persons attending the meeting to hear each other at the same time. Some examples of resources are listed in the proclamation.  Districts will need to inform the public that temporarily, their ability to “attend” those meetings is remote only, and that in-person attendance is not permitted at this time.
    • The Proclamation also temporarily suspends the ability of a District to take “action” on matters at a meeting unless they are: (1) matters necessary and routine, or (2) necessary to respond to the outbreak and current public health emergency.
  • On March 26, the Attorney General’s office issued updated guidance around adherence to the OPMA and Public Records Act during the COVID 19 outbreak.
What is the most recent guidance on responding to Public Records Requests during this crisis?
  • Proclamation 20-28 temporarily suspends certain requirments of the Public Records Act including the requirement to respond to a public records request within five days. However, agencies are still expected to respond promptly to the greatest extent possible. Districts are encouraged to review the full proclamation for more detail.
Are there alternatives to handwritten signatures on a timesheet? We’re struggling to secure employee and supervisor signatures on timesheets as we abide by social distancing and other directives around the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Yes, for the purposes of submitting CD employee timesheets to the SCC along with a voucher for any of our grants, there are alternate processes available to securing handwritten signatures. The alternative that will work best for your district depends on what tools you have available to you and your employees. Please work with your Regional Manager to determine the best alternate method for your district.
What measures can help temporarily reduce or eliminate the need for securing physical signatures from district supervisors?
  • There are a range of options to consider to temporarily reduce or eliminate the need for physical signatures from supervisors. Each can reduce controls and increase the risk of fraud. CDs should carefully weigh the different risks associated with each option. Your Regional Manager can assist with this analysis.
    • Paper paychecks and expense checks to staff can be replaced with direct deposit. Employers are not required to provide staff with a paper check so long as the timeliness requirements are met with direct deposit.
    • Contract signing authority can be temporarily assigned to the District Manager (or  where this exists the threshold can be temporarily increased).
    • Vendors normally paid by physical check can usually be charged to a district credit card. Credit use must be carefully monitored, here’s a tool to help you assess your controls.
    • If physical checks are to still be required, one of the signatures could be that of the District Manager.
  • If any of these measures are adopted, they can be revoked when the current emergency has passed or at any time the board chooses. It’s strongly recommended that the board increase oversight by carefully reviewing bank and credit card statements, along with all financial documents during this period to mitigate the risk of error and fraud. For assistance with questions or selecting alternatives to physical signatures, please contact your Regional Manager.
Should conservation districts consider tracking costs incurred from changes in operations due to the COVID-19 coronavirus?
  • Yes, please consider tracking any costs that you incur as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Having an estimate of costs and impacts will be important in the event that financial relief programs become available.
Grants/vouchers
What are the impacts to SCC grants and planned outcomes?

Operating-funded grants

  • Our fiscal year-end is approaching on June 30, 2020 for SCC operating funds grants (implementation, engineering, irrigation efficiencies TA). It’s important for conservation districts to review their planned outcomes for these grants and ensure they have alternate activities in mind if planned activities (workshops, in-person outreach, volunteer gatherings, etc.) are discouraged by the public health guidance around the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
  • All districts are encouraged to review their planned outcomes, especially for their Implementation Grants, and make any necessary adjustments to those outcomes if needed. To adjust the budget between grant outcomes, conservation districts need only complete a Budget Revision Form and submit it to the Commission.
  • If a district needs to revise the grant deliverables or the scope of work in an outcome, please send an email to Courtney Woods at: cwoods@scc.wa.gov and copy your Regional Manager. Capital-funded grants Capital funds grants such as Natural Resource Investments, Shellfish, Livestock Technical Assistance, and RCPP are funds that are available for the full biennium so there is more time to complete the work under these grants. They do not end until June 30, 2021.

Capital-funded grants

  • Capital funds grants such as Natural Resource Investments, Shellfish, Livestock Technical Assistance, and RCPP are funds that are available for the full biennium so there is more time to complete the work under these grants. They do not end until June 30, 2021.
Is the SCC still processing vouchers?
  • Yes, the SCC has made arrangements to provide timely processing of vouchers for all our grants. At this time, monthly vouchering for SCC grants is still required.If you are anticipating a challenge in meeting this requirement, please work with your Regional Manager and check back to this FAQ web-page often for updated information.
How is the Department of Ecology managing grants and agreements during the COVID-19 outbreak?
  • The Department of Ecology released a letter to recipients of water quality grant and loan projects (March 19). It includes notification that all business interactions have been shifted to teleworking when possible and provides a list of the affected Water Quality funding programs. It notes that staff are readily available by email. Lastly, the letter notes their goal to be flexible in working through issues. Please contact one of the Water Quality Team members assigned to your project, or you can contact one of their Financial Section Managers through the contact information provided in the letter.
What about deadlines and due dates for grants and agreements with other state agencies? Where can CDs find updated information?
Reporting/deadlines
Are there changes to the Annual Plan of Work deadline?
  • The current deadline for submittal of the Annual Plan of Work is May 29, 2020. We are monitoring the situation. If you anticipate a challenge in meeting the current deadline, please let your Regional Manager know and check back to this FAQ often for updated information.
Has the State Auditor’s Office (SAO) Annual Financial Reporting deadline changed?
  • The SCC has been in contact with the SAO with concerns about this upcoming deadline. The SAO is reviewing the situation and will have more information to share very soon.
CONTACTS
  • Other questions about potential impacts to CD operations? Please contact your Regional Manager.
  • General questions about emergency preparedness and response? Please contact Bill Eller.
  • Have you found other resources that you think should be on this page? Please contact Laura Johnson.