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AGO 1957 No. 83 - June 13, 1957
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


County commissioners cannot create a new county office to be known as the county Veterans Aid Bureau, and appoint an individual to administer such office.

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                                                                   June 13, 1957

Honorable John Panesko
Prosecuting Attorney
Lewis County Court House
Chehalis, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 83

Dear Sir:

            You have requested the opinion of this office concerning whether the board of county commissioners is legally authorized to create a new county office to be known as the "County Veterans Aid Bureau," and to appoint an individual to administer the office.

            Your question is answered in the negative.


            The factual situation upon which your question is based is as follows: A committee of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has suggested that the county commissioners in your county create a new county office to be known as the Lewis County Veterans Aid Bureau to administer the veterans' fund and to assist veterans and dependents in filing claims for pensions, compensation, funeral benefits, and the like.  They have also suggested that the qualifications for the office of administrator should be set by the committee of veterans, and the appointment of the administrator on a civil service career basis by the board of county commissioners should be subject to the approval of this committee.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Although the letter does not so state, we assume, in view of the facts outlined above, that the county is to pay the salary of the administrator and the cost of running the office out of county funds.

            Under the constitution and laws of this state, counties are but arms or agencies of the state authorized to carry out or perform some functions of state government.  As instrumentalities of the state they have no powers except those expressly conferred by the constitution and state laws, or those which are reasonably or necessarily implied by the granted powers.  State ex rel. Board of County Commissioners v. Clausen, 95 Wash. 214;Great Northern Railroad Co. v. Stevens County, 108 Wash. 238;Carpenter v. Okanogan County, 163 Wash. 118; State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, 2 Wn. (2d) 575; andState ex rel. King County v. Superior Court, 33 Wn. (2d) 76.

            In addition, the powers of a county can be exercised only by its county commissioners or by agents or officers acting under their authority or under authority of law.  The boards of county commissioners have only such powers as have been granted to them expressly or by necessary implication by the constitution and statutes of the state.  Sasse v. King County, 196 Wash. 242;State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, supra;State ex rel. Becker v. Willey, 16 Wn. (2d) 340; andState ex rel. King County v. Superior Court, supra.

            The only statutory provisions relating to the rights of veterans which are specifically to be administered at the county level are found in chapter 73.08 RCW and chapter 73.24 RCW.  The provisions of chapter 73.08 relate to the so-called veterans relief fund.  Under that act the boards of county commissioners of each county are authorized to levy a tax of not less than 1/20th of one mill, and not greater than 1-1/5th of one mill upon the property in the county in order to create a fund for the relief of honorably discharged indigent veterans, indigent wives, and others as therein designated.

            RCW 73.08.010 provides that authorization for the expenditure of such funds is to be made by the commander and quartermaster or commander and adjutant of any post, camp or chapter of any national organization of veterans in such city, town or precinct.  Where no veterans' organization exists in the precinct in which the recipient lives, the county commissioners are authorized, under RCW 73.08.030, to pay the orders drawn by the commander and quartermaster or commander and adjutant of any such post, camp or chapter located in the nearest city or town.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Chapter 73.24 RCW authorizes the county commissioners to authorize the burial of indigent deceased veterans.  The remainder of Title 73, which is devoted to the rights of veterans and veterans' affairs, contains no provision specifically placing the administration of those portions of the law in the hands of the county commissioners, and accordingly the county commissioners have no authority under those sections of the law.

            We have been unable to find any specific grant of authority by the legislature to the county commissioners which would authorize them to create a new county office.  In the absence of such statutory provisions, the constitutional provision found in Article XI, § 5, as amended by the Twelfth Amendment, is applicable.  That amendment to the constitution reads as follows:

            "The legislature, by general and uniform laws, shall provide for the election in the several counties of boards of county commissioners, sheriffs, county clerks, treasurers, prosecuting attorneys and other county, township or precinct and district officers, as public convenience may require, and shall prescribe their duties, and fix their terms of office:  Provided, That the legislature may, by general laws, classify the counties by population and provide for the election in certain classes of counties certain officers who shall exercise the powers and perform the duties of two or more officers.  It shall regulate the compensation of all such officers, in proportion to their duties, and for that purpose may classify the counties by population.  And it shall provide for the strict accountability of such officers for all fees which may be collected by them, and for all public moneys which may be paid to them or officially come into their possession."

            The supreme court of this state has held that under this provision of the constitution, the legislature has full power to prescribe the terms of county officers.  State ex rel. Hays v. Twitchell, 9 Wash. 530.  In the later case ofState ex rel. Egbert v. Blumberg, 46 Wash. 270, the court ruled that an act of the legislature was void which created the office of county fruit inspector and authorized the county commissioners to appoint the inspector, in that it violated the mandatory provisions of Article XI, § 5, requiring the election of all county officers.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            In addition, the following portion of Article XI, § 8, is applicable:

            "The legislature shall fix the compensation by salaries of all county officers, and of constables in cities having a population of five thousand and upwards; . . ."

            Accordingly, you are advised that it is the opinion of this office that boards of county commissioners are prohibited by the constitution from creating the new county office in question without specific statutory authorization from the legislature.

            This opinion is not to be construed as overruling previous opinions issued by this office holding that the county commissioners are charged with the responsibility of making disbursements for relief under the act, including the final determination of whether a person applying for aid is an indigent, and therefore the board of county commissioners is authorized to hire such employees as may be necessary to assist the board in the administration of the county veterans' aid fund.

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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