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AGO 1951 No. 83 - June 29, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES -- EMERGENCIES -- ASSESSOR -- AERIAL SURVEY

A contemplated emergency order appropriating $22,000 for an aerial survey for the county assessor after the county commissioner had considered a larger item for the same purpose and stricken it in the regular budget would not constitute an emergency.

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                                                                   June 29, 1951

Honorable Cliff Yelle
State Auditor
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 83

Attention:  !ttA. E. Hankins, Chief Examiner
            Division of Municipal Corporations

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your request of June 14, 1951, for an opinion from this office in which you ask whether a proposed emergency appropriation of $22,000 for an aerial survey in the budget of the county assessor would be valid.

            In answer thereto our conclusion may be stated as follows:

            A contemplated emergency order appropriating $22,000 for an aerial survey for the county assessor after the county commissioners had considered a larger item for the same purpose and stricken it in the regular budget would not constitute an emergency.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It is a commonplace that surveys must be made in order that it may be determined whether or not valuations for tax purposes of the various tracts of real property of a county should be raised, lowered or adjusted and it is entirely possible that an aerial survey by the county assessor would be  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] entirely proper.  We, however, do not advise on this question as you are interested in the validity of the proposed emergency ordinance for $22,000 for this purpose after the commissioners had already studied and stricken an item for the identical purpose in the preliminary budget for the present fiscal year.

            An emergency is generally defined as

            "'* * * any event or occasional combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action or remedy; pressing necessity; exigency.'  * * *People v. Supervisors, 21 Ill. App., 271, 274."

            Where many people in the county are suffering and destitute a county was authorized to declare an emergency justifying an emergency appropriation.  Los Angeles County v. Payne, 66 P. (2d) 658, 663, 8 Cal. 2d 653.  Where state activity in registering vehicles would cease an emergency arose.  Grout v. Gates, 124 A 76 [[124 Atl. 76]](Vt.).  The term does not mean expediency, convenience or best interest.  State ex rel. Reiter v. Hinkle, 161 Wash. 652, 297 Pac. 1071, and State ex rel. Satterthwaite v. Hinkle, 152 Wash. 221, 223, 277 Pac. 837; but the condition must fall in the class of State ex rel. Hartley v. Clausen, 150 Wash. 20, at page 29, quoting with approval fromState ex rel. Porter v. Superior Court, 145 Wash. 551, 261 Pac. 90, as follows:

            "'Any event or occasional combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action or remedy; pressing necessity; exigency; a sudden or unexpected happening; an unforeseen occurrence or condition.'"

            It has also been determined to be a condition equivalent to

            "* * * a public calamity, resulting from fire, flood, or like disaster, or through some unusual occurrence, not reasonably subject to anticipation by any provision of the local appropriating body.  Lyons v. City of Bayonne, 130 A. 14, 15, 101 N.J.L. 455."

            A public emergency was declared to exist in King County when over fifty thousand persons in a county were in dire need.  Rummens v. Evans, 168 Wash. 527, 13 P. (2d) 26, 30.  See alsoAssociate Collectors Inc. v. King County, 194 Wash. 75, 76 P. (2d) 998.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            This office has upheld emergency ordinances by counties where funds were exhausted and highly necessary roads and bridges were allowed to be completed on an emergency ordinance; opinion dated December 4, 1924, to the prosecuting attorney of Whitman County; and where there was no money to support the indigents or to pay witness fees in criminal actions, letter dated September 14, 1933, to the prosecuting attorney of Grays Harbor County; where current expense funds were exhausted and there was no money to carry on the governmental functions of a county, the declared emergency was upheld, opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Walla Walla County dated June 25, 1934, a copy of which is herewith enclosed.

            A study of section 2, chapter 143, Laws of 1925, Ex. Sess. (Rem. Rev. Stat. 3997-6, 36.24.14 et seq. RCW [[RCW 36.40.140 et seq.]]) reveals that two classes of public emergencies were provided for:  (1) expenses which could not reasonably have been foreseen and (2) the happening of "* * * any emergency caused by fire, flood, explosion, storm, earthquake, epidemic, riot or insurrection, or for the immediate preservation of order or of public health or for the restoration to a condition of usefulness of any public property * * *."

            It would appear from the above authorities that an emergency, even in the most liberal sense, does not mean expediency or convenience, but must arise from a condition which could not have been reasonably foreseen at the time of making up the regular annual budget for the county; and since the commissioners considered such an item of expense in the assessor's preliminary budget, but turned it down when making up the budget for the fiscal year of 1951, it would undoubtedly be difficult for a court to find as a fact that said expenditure at this time of said sum or of a lesser sum for the identical purpose was an expense which could not reasonably have been foreseen.  We are, therefore, constrained to advise that such an expenditure would not qualify as an emergency as contemplated by the legislature, and advise further that such an emergency ordinance could easily be overturned.  SeeRaynor v. King County, 2 Wn. (2d) 199, 97 P. (2d) 696.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

PHILIP W. RICHARDSON
Assistant Attorney General

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