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AGO 1955 No. 66 - April 28, 1955
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- HEALTH AND WELFARE PLAN

The county commissioners cannot authorize a health and welfare plan for employees without statutory authority.

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                                                                   April 28, 1955

Honorable Tom A. Durham
Prosecuting Attorney
Whatcom County
Court House, 311 Grand Avenue
Bellingham, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 66


Attention:  !ttMr. Jack Rowles

            Deputy

Dear Sir:

            You have requested our opinion on the following:

            1. May the county commissioners authorize a health and welfare plan for their employees?

            2. May the county commissioners authorize a health and welfare plan as part of the employees' "compensation"?

            Our answer to both questions is in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            1. Proper authority in law is required before public funds can be expended.

            "It is elementary that the duties and powers of a municipal corporation relating to the payment or disbursement of public funds are wholly regulated by statute."  State ex rel. Thurston Co. v.  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] Department of Labor and Industries, 167 Wash. 629.

            Another basic principle of law is that counties and boards of county commissioners may exercise power only in compliance with statutes conferring the power.

            "Counties are but instrumentalities of the state, organized to perform some functions of state government and as such have only the powers expressly conferred by the constitution and the state laws, or reasonably or necessarily implied therefrom."

            State ex rel. Jack Taylor v. The Superior Court for King County, 2 Wn. (2d) 575, 580;State ex rel. King County v. Superior Court for King County, 33 Wn. (2d) 76, 80.

            Chapter 51, Laws of 1955, (Sub. House Bill 185) copy enclosed, provides:

            "Any class AA county by a majority vote of its board of county commissioners may enter into contracts to provide health care services and/or group insurance for the benefit of its employees, and may pay all or any part of the cost thereof."

            A class AA county is one having a population of 500,000 or more (RCW 36.13.010, 1953 Supp.).  Presently King County is the only class AA county in the state and, therefore, is the only county whose commissioners have authority to provide for a health and welfare plan for employees at county expense.

            2. In the foregoing, two fundamental propositions of law were mentioned, namely, that proper authority in law is required before public funds can be expended; and secondly, that municipal corporations can exercise only such powers as are expressly granted in law or which are necessarily implied therefrom.  No such authority exists nor can such power be implied from existing laws.  Therefore county commissioners of other than class AA counties cannot provide for a health and welfare plan for employees at county  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] expense.  The county commissioners can, if the statute so provides, grant a raise in pay to employees; but they cannot grant an increase in pay as a means of circumventing the law and thereby provide health benefits where no authority to do so existed.  The commissioners cannot authorize a health and welfare plan for the employees as part of their "compensation".  Therefore, the opinion of this office to Lloyd Shorett, Prosecuting Attorney for King County, dated October 3, 1945 [[OAG 1945-46 p. 351]], (copy enclosed) which authorizes such action on the part of county commissioners is hereby expressly overruled.

            It is, of course, permissible for the employees to set up a health and welfare plan financed by payroll deductions from the participating employees.

            We hope the foregoing analysis will prove helpful.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General


MAURICE M. EPSTEIN
Assistant Attorney General

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