Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1952 No. 333 - June 27, 1952
AGO Opinion Header Image
Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTY AUDITOR'S BUDGETS ‑- PURCHASE OF A "BOOKKEEPING MACHINE" BY THE COUNTY AUDITOR, ON A LEASE BASIS

A county auditor may acquire a "bookkeeping machine" by the method of a lease for the balance of the current fiscal year, with an option to purchase exercisable after the commencement of the next fiscal year, provided, that in the county auditor's current budget, under the general class "capital outlay" there is an appropriation item, which would cover such a purpose, and the appropriation item is adequate as originally adopted or as revised in accordance with RCW 36.40.100.

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

                                                                   June 27, 1952

Honorable Howard V. Doherty
Prosecuting Attorney
Clallam County
3 Aldwell Building
Port Angeles, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 333

Dear Sir:

            On the 10th day of April 1952, this office received a request from you for an opinion on the following matter:

            It seems that the county auditor of Clallam County has indicated a desire to purchase a certain type of "bookkeeping machine" the cost of which exceeds the amount of his budget for the current fiscal year.  You ask whether it is legally possible to acquire the machine on a contract of lease, the term of said lease to be for the balance of the current fiscal year at a nominal rental with an option to purchase exercisable after the commencement of the next fiscal year, with the rental to be applied on the purchase price.

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            A county auditor may acquire a "bookkeeping machine" by the method of a contract of lease, the term of said lease to be for the balance of the current fiscal year, with an option to purchase the machine exercisable after the commencement of the next fiscal year provided that in the county auditor's current budget under the general class "Capital Outlay" there is an appropriation item which would cover such a purpose and the appropriation item is adequate as originally adopted or as revised in accord with RCW 36.40.100.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            In arriving at the above conclusion it becomes necessary to examine the budget law and consider its application to the facts herein presented.  The budget law is contained in chapter 164, Laws of 1923, page 523 as amended by chapter 143, Laws of 1925, Ex. Sess. page 391, and chapter 301, Laws of 1927, page 736 (RRS §§ 3997-1 through 3997-10), chapter 36.40 RCW inclusive.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            RCW 36.40.010 provides that each county official shall annually file with the county auditordetailed and itemized estimates of probable revenues from sources other than taxation and of all expenditures required by his office for the ensuing fiscal year.

            RCW 36.40.040 so far as pertinent here provides that "Upon receipt of the estimates the auditor shall prepare the county budget which shall set forth thecomplete financial program of the county for the ensuing fiscal year, * * *"

            "The expenditure section shall set forth in comparative and tabular form by offices, departments, services, and institutions the estimated expenditures for the ensuing fiscal year, the appropriations for the current fiscal year, the actual expenditures for the first six months of the current fiscal year including all contracts or other obligations against current appropriations, and the actual expenditures for the last completed fiscal year.

            "Such estimates, appropriations, and expenditures shall be classified under the general classes of (1) salaries and wages (2) maintenance and operation (3) capital outlay * * *

            "* * *Expenditures for 'capital outlay' shall set forth and describe each object of expenditure separately.  * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            RCW 36.40.080 provides, so far as pertinent here, that:

            "Upon the conclusion of the budget hearing the board of county commissioners shall fix and determine each item of the budget separately and shall by resolution adopt the budget as so finally determined * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            RCW 36.40.100, as pertinent here, provides:

            "The estimates of expenditures itemized and classified as finally fixed and adopted in detail by the board of county commissioners shall constitute the appropriations for the county for the onsuing fiscal years and the county commissioners and every other county official shall be limited in the making of expenditures or the incurring of liabilities to the amount of such detailed appropriation items or classes respectively: Provided, That upon a resolution formally adopted by the board at a regular or special meeting and entered upon the minutes, transfers or revisions within the general classes of 'salaries and wages,' 'maintenance and operation' and 'capital outlay' may be made:  * * *" (Emphasis supplied)

            RCW 36.40.130 provides:

            "Expenditures made, liabilities incurred, or warrants issued in excess of any of the detailed budget appropriations or as revised by transfer as herein provided shall not be a liability of the county, but the official making or incurring such expenditure or issuing such warrant shall be liable therefor personally and upon his official bond.  The county auditor shall issue no warrant and the county commissioners shall approve no claim for any expenditure in excess of the detailed budget appropriations or as revised under the provisions hereof, except upon an order of a court of competent jurisdiction, or for emergencies as hereinafter provided.  * * *"

            Analyzing the budget law as set out above and in so far as it applies to the situation you have submitted, we note the following:

            (a) The county auditor must compile an itemized and detailed estimate of all expenditures required by his office for the ensuing year;

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            (b) Such estimate of expenditures for "capital outlay" shall set forth and describe each object of expenditure separately;

            (c) The estimate of expenditures so itemized and classified, when finally adopted, shall constitute the appropriation for the ensuing fiscal year;

            (d)The auditor is limited in making expenditures or incurring liabilities, to the amount of such detailed appropriation items or classes respectively;

            (e) Only upon resolution formally adopted by the county commissioners may transfers or revisions within the general class of "capital outlay" be made;

            (f) Expenditures in excess of the detailed budget appropriation or as revised by transfer shall not be a liability of the county but only of the auditor personally and upon his official bond.

            I presume that the county auditor in this instance compiled his estimates of expenditures for "capital outlay" for the current fiscal year "setting forth and describing each object of expenditure separately," and that the estimates were formally approved and adopted by the county commissioners, constituting the appropriations for the current year.  I am further proceeding on the supposition that the county auditor has an expenditure under the general class of "capital outlay" which describes the "bookkeeping machine" as an object of expenditure, and also that such item of expenditure has not been exhausted.  However, even though said item of expenditure in the auditor's budget under the general class of "capital outlay" has been exhausted or not included, it is possible to alleviate this difficulty by means of a revision or transfer within the general class "capital outlay" in conformance with RCW 36.40.100,supra.

            In regard to a transfer or revision within the general class of the detailed budget, seeKuesel v. Collin, 170 Wash. 237, 16 P. (2d) 442.

            There have not been any decisions rendered by our supreme court, nor do I find any from other jurisdictions, which would be authority for the method proposed by you for the alleviation of the auditor's difficulty.  However,State ex rel. Ross v.  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] King County, 191 Wash. 340, 71 P. (2d) 370, although not in point on the facts, would seem to uphold the method of purchase you propose provided it is within the boundaries prescribed by the statutes as pointed out in this opinion.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

STEPHEN C. WAY
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo