Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1955 No. 80 - May 23, 1955
AGO Opinion Header Image
Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington


Boards of county commissioners may: 

(1) acquire property by gift deed containing a reversionary clause and make permanent improvements thereon;

(2) appropriate money from current funds for acquisition of grounds and construction of buildings in addition to annual maintenance appropriation;

(3) may acquire fair grounds through long term lease and construct permanent improvements;

(4) use funds raised by special levy or for bonds voted for construction of improvements on property leased for fair purposes.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                   May 23, 1955

Honorable R. DeWitt Jones
Prosecuting Attorney
Clark County
301 Court House
Vancouver, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 80

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of April 20, 1955, previously acknowledged, you request our opinion as to the powers of county commissioners to acquire property and appropriate funds for county fair purposes.  The four questions you propose are as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (1) May the county accept a deed with reversion clause and use county funds for the making of permanent improvements in the form of fair buildings?

            (2) May the county appropriate from current funds sums for permanent improvements in addition to that authorized for maintenance of the annual county fair?

            (3) May the county enter into a long term lease of twenty to forty years and use county funds on the leased property for permanent fair buildings?

            (4) May the county use funds raised by special levy or for bonds voted and designated for county fair buildings on leased property?

            Our conclusions are all in the affirmative.


            (1) The direct authority for the holding of county fairs and agricultural exhibits is to be found in RCW 36.37.010, which reads as follows:

            "The holding of county fairs and agricultural exhibitions of stock, cereals, and agricultural produce of all kinds, including dairy produce as well as arts and manufactures, by any county in the state, and the participation by any county in a district fair or agricultural exhibition is declared to be in the interest of public good and a strictly county purpose."

            From the foregoing it is clear that the legislature has declared the conduct and operation of county fairs to be a public purpose.  Therefore, the legislature may authorize governmental subdivisions to expend public funds for the support and promotion of such fairs, which the legislature has seen fit to do in the following section of RCW 36.37.020, which provides as follows:

            "The board of county commissioners of any county in the state may acquire by gift, devise,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] purchase, condemnation and purchase, or otherwise, lands, property rights, leases, easements, and all kinds of personal property and own and hold the same and construct and maintain temporary or permanent improvements suitable and necessary for the purpose of holding and maintaining county or district fairs for the exhibition of county or district resources and products."

            The foregoing statute contains whatever powers the county commissioners possess in regard to the acquisition of property for the public purpose of holding an annual fair.  The acceptance of a gift deed of land containing a reversionary clause, should the land cease to be used for the purposes granted, would lie within the sound discretion of the board of county commissioners.

            The statute contains no express prohibition for such an acceptance, nor do we feel that such a prohibition could be implied.  An examination of pertinent statutes and case law discloses no such prohibition and in light of the broad grant of powers contained above such a strict construction would seem to defeat the purposes for which the enabling statute was passed.  Should any lingering doubt remain, may we suggest that a clause permitting the county commissioners to remove any improvements on the land prior to its reversion could easily be inserted in the deed prior to any formal acceptance.

            (2) In answer to your second question as to expenditure of funds, RCW 36.37.040 reads as follows:

            "Appropriation by boards of county commissioners in any one year for the purpose of acquiring property for, and the maintenance of, such fairs shall be limited according to the following schedule:

            "Counties of more than one hundred thousand, ten thousand dollars;

            "Counties of between one hundred thousand and fifty thousand, seven thousand five hundred dollars;

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "Counties of between fifty thousand and twenty-five thousand, five thousand dollars;

            "Counties under twenty-five thousand, two thousand and five hundred dollars.

            "The board of county commissioners of any county may also expend a sum not exceeding ten thousand dollars in any one year, to be used only for the purpose of acquiring necessary grounds for such county or district fair, the construction and improvement of buildings thereon, and the payment of premiums."

            The last paragraph of this section is derived from section 3, chapter 184, Laws of 1947, which amended section 2, chapter 83, Laws of 1923, which reads as follows:

            "The board of county commissioners of any county containing a population of not more than 35,000, is hereby authorized to expend a sum not exceeding $10,000.00 to be used only for the purpose of acquiring necessary grounds for said county fair and for the construction of buildings thereon and for the improvement of the same."

            Prior to the amendment of this section, it was generally held that under this 1923 law, if the board of county commissioners had previously appropriated and expended this sum, no additional sum could be provided for the acquisition of grounds and buildings.

            By amending the 1923 law the legislature in 1947 specifically provided for such an appropriation"in any one year" (underlining added).  Obviously, the legislative intent is clear that in addition to appropriations for the maintenance and acquiring of additional property, the boards of county commissioners may make the additional appropriation for the acquisition of grounds, construction and improvement of buildings and the payment of premiums.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            The present law, therefore, places the limit for a maintenance appropriation on the basis of the population of Clark County at $7,500.00 annually.  In addition, the county commissioners may appropriate $10,000.00 annually for the acquisition of grounds, construction and improvement of buildings and the payment of premiums.

            (3) To answer the third query, we refer you to (1) above in which RCW 36.37.020 is set forth.  The enabling language is quite broad and provides for the acquisition of property by various means, among which are specifically set forth leases.  The statute then goes on to provide that there can be constructed permanent improvements on property acquired.  By implication the term of a lease is left to the discretion of the board of county commissioners, and in our opinion, a twenty to forty year lease would be reasonable and not in violation of the powers granted, either expressly or impliedly.  By entering into such a lease the county commissioners would simply be exercising the powers granted them by the legislature.  We can find no express or implied prohibition against such an undertaking either in statutes or case decisions.

            (4) In answer to your fourth question, we call your attention to House Bill No. 137 of the 1955 Session, which law will go into effect June 9, 1955, and which adds the following language to RCW 36.37.040, previously quoted in this opinion:

            "* * *Provided, That the board of county commissioners of any county may make expenditures in excess of the amounts above set forth in such years, in such amounts and for such purposes as may be authorized by a majority of the electors voting on the proposition to authorize such additional expenditures at either a special or regular election of the county."

            We again point out that the foregoing section, as amended, must be read in conjunction with all other sections in the chapter, and particularly with respect to 36.37.020 RCW.  We can find no prohibition in the statutes or in case decisions which would prevent the use of funds raised by special levy or bond issue for construction of buildings on leased property.  On the contrary, the legislature has seen fit to grant the board of county commissioners  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] authority to lease land for fair purposes, and the amendment set forth above impliedly encompasses such a possibility.

            In regard to this, we call to your attention the limitation of levies as provided in RCW 84.52.050, the section called "'forty mill' limit".

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo