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AGO 1951 No. 050 - May 28, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington


The authority of county commissioners to pay expenses of the county freeholders committee is so doubtful that the matter should be submitted to a court.

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                                                                   May 28, 1951

Honorable Charles O. Carroll
Prosecuting Attorney
King County
Seattle 4, Washington                                                                                                        Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 50

Dear Sir:

            Receipt is acknowledged of your letter of April 25, 1951, requesting our opinion as to whether the county commissioners can provide for an appropriation of money to cover expenditures to be incurred by the freeholders committee elected to draft a home rule charter pursuant to the twenty-first amendment to the constitution.

            It is our conclusion that the right of the commissioners to provide funds for expenses of this committee is sufficiently doubtful that the matter should be submitted to a court before any expenditures of this kind are made.


            According to your letter the freeholders have applied to the board of county commissioners for an appropriation of money to cover expenditures necessary for the drawing of the proposed charter.  The appropriation is asked for in two categories:  (a) technical consultants and advisory services and (b) administrative expenses (mimeographing, stenographic work, printing of final charter, postage, stationery and supplies, cost of special material and incidentals).  The twenty-first amendment does not specifically provide for any appropriation of funds for the freeholder's committee and we understand from your letter that money has not been budgeted for the current  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] year for the payment of any such expenses.  No laws have been passed by the state legislature to implement the twenty-first amendment, nor to provide the means of financing the operations of such a freeholders committee.

            There can be no doubt that the work of the freeholders committee is an official function.  The only directions which the twenty-first amendment gives with respect to the committee so far as the commissioners are concerned is that they shall cause the freeholders to be elected and shall submit the proposed charter to public vote in an election to be governed by the laws regulating and controlling general and special elections in the county.  There is no authorization in the twenty-first amendment for the employment of technical consultants nor is there any indication of the extent to which administrative expenses may be incurred.  Our Supreme Court, in the case of State ex rel. Manning v. Major, 50 Wash. 355, 97 Pac. 249, implied that the fact that one has a duty to perform on behalf of a county and may require facilities with which to perform that duty, does not authorize expenditure of county funds for the purchase of such facilities unless so authorized by statute.  In that case a county surveyor was held to be entitled to have the county purchase a transit for his use because a statute authorized it, but the court said:

            "* * * Appellants argue that, since law books are necessary for the prosecuting attorney, if county surveyors may require the county commissioners to furnish surveyor's transits because they are necessary, then county commissioners may be required to furnish libraries to the county attorneys.  This would no doubt follow if there were a statute providing for it such as there is for county surveyors.  But in the absence of a statute, there is no such duty."

            The thought expressed in that opinion has not been contradicted by later cases of our Supreme Court and if applied to the present case would indicate that the failure of the twenty-first amendment or any implementing legislation to authorize the payment of expenses of the freeholders committee might indicate that such expenses may not be paid.  The twenty-first amendment does definitely indicate that the freeholders committee is to function and is to produce a comprehensive piece of work.  From this it may be inferred that since the work is done on behalf of the county, the county must bear any  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] expenses necessary to carry it out.  We see considerable merit to that argument but, in view of the expression of the Supreme Court in the case above cited, we hesitate to advise that county funds may be expended for such a purpose.

            The continuance of the county government is not dependent upon the functioning of this committee.  It, therefore, might be questioned whether an emergency exists, such as to permit the appropriation of funds not included on the annual budget.

            It is our view that the authority of the commissioners to provide funds for the purposes requested by the freeholders committee is sufficiently doubtful that arrangement should be made to submit the issue to a court for determination before such funds are expended.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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