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AGO 1955 No. 96 - June 09, 1955
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington


County auditor may lawfully draw warrants for dues to state and national associations of county commissioners.

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                                                                    June 9, 1955

Honorable James E. Duree
Prosecuting Attorney
Pacific County
South Bend, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 96

Dear Sir:

            We have your letter of April 20, 1955, previously acknowledged, requesting our opinion upon the following question:

            "* * * whether or not it is legal for the county auditor to disburse county funds in warrant form to pay a membership in the state association of county commissioners when a portion of that payment is stated to be for 'membership in the National Association of County Commissioners'."

            It is our opinion that such an expenditure would be legal.


            Counties are creatures of statute and derive such powers as they possess from general law.  Article XI, § 4, Amendment 21, Washington State Constitution.  Carpenter v. Okanogan County, 163 Wash. 18.

            "A county in a political and legal aspect is a  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] civil division of the territory of a state, and a governmental agency of the state, in a sense a municipal corporation, at least a quasi-corporation, to aid in the administration of governmental affairs, and to exercise delegated sovereign powers of the state, * * *" 1 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, 3rd Edition, 311.

            The three sections of the Revised Code of Washington chapter 36.32 RCW applicable to this question are as follows:

            36       .32.340:  "The county commissioners shall take such action as is necessary to effect coordination of their administrative programs, prepare reports annually on the operations of all departments under their jurisdiction, and submit biennially to the governor and the legislature their joint recommendations on procedural changes which would increase the efficiency of any department."

            36       .32.350:  "County commissioners may designate the Washington State Association of County Commissioners as a coordinating agency in the execution of duties imposed by this chapter and reimburse the association from county funds:  Provided, That the total of such reimbursements from any county in any calendar year shall not exceed a sum equal to the revenues of one‑fiftieth of a mill levy against the assessed valuation of the county.  Such reimbursement shall be paid on vouchers submitted to the county auditor and approved by the board of county commissioners in the manner provided for the disbursement of other funds and the vouchers shall set forth the nature of the service rendered, supported by affidavit that the service has actually been performed."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            36       .32.360:  "County commissioners may take such other and further action as may be necessary to forward the coordination of their activities, including attendance at such state or district meetings as may be called for that purpose."

            The constitutionality of the levying of millage for the support of the Washington State Association of County Commissioners was passed upon by our Supreme Court in the case ofState ex rel. Cruikshank v. Baker, (1940) 2 Wn. (2d) 145.  In this case the court said:

            "We are also of the opinion that the legislature has the power to provide that the several counties, acting through their boards of county commissioners, assist in the coordination of certain administrative functions, as part of a state‑wide [[statewide]]program, and to provide for the payment of such services as the commissioners may deem necessary, within the limits set forth in the act, to carry out this program.  The act in question recognizes the public necessity of coordinating certain administrative functions of the several counties, for the benefit of the individual counties and the state generally."

            15 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, § 39.19, p. 33:

            "All appropriations or expenditures of public money by municipalities and indebtedness created by them, must be for a public and corporate purpose, as distinguished from a private purpose, * * *"

            See, alsoJames v. Seattle, 22 Wash. 654, 62 Pac. 84, 79 Am. St. Rep. 957; and 15 McQuillin, Municipal Corporation (3rd Ed.) 1954 Cumulative Supp. § 39.19:

            "What shall constitute a municipal function is for legislature to determine and its decision  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] in the matter is not subject to interference by courts unless clear abuse of discretion is shown.  State v. Jacksonville,‑-Fla. ‑-. 50 So. (2d) 532."

            The membership in the National Association of County Commissioners is a necessary and proper incident to the furtherance of the business of the county through its commissioners.  The portion of the payment to the state association of county commissioners stated to be for "membership in the National Association of County Commissioners" would be a proper and legal expenditure of county funds and for a public purpose.  RCW 36.32.360 specifically says the county commissioners "may take such other andfurther action as may be necessary to forward the coordination of their activities" and it is plain that membership in a national association of county commissioners would certainly fall within this stated purpose.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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