OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- BOARDS OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS ‑- EXPENSES ‑- REIMBURSEMENT FOR INTRA-COUNTY TRAVEL EXPENSES
The entitlement of a member of a board of county commissioners to be reimbursed for his expenses for meals and travel while engaged in official county business within his own county is dependent upon the terms of such county's ordinance as has been promulgated under RCW 42.24.090.
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November 8, 1974
Honorable Curtis M. Janhunen
Grays Harbor County
Post Office Box 529
Montesano, Washington 98563 Cite as: AGLO 1974 No. 92
By recent letter you have requested our opinion on the following two questions concerning reimbursable expenses for a member of a board of county commissioners:
"1. Is a County Commissioner entitled to be reimbursed for his expenses for meals while attending regular and special meetings of the Board held within the county and at the regular Board meeting place?
"2. Is a member of the Board of County Commissioners entitled to reimbursable expenses for meals while meeting with county and noncounty people to discuss county business where such meetings take place within the county?"
We respond to these question in the manner set forth in our analysis.
Prior to July 24, 1974, when chapter 24, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., became effective, your questions would both have been governed by the then existing provisions of RCW 36.17.030, which read as follows:
"All county officers shall be entitled to their necessary reasonable traveling expenses in the performance of their official duties, bills therefor to be audited by the county commissioners: Provided, That when using their own cars, they shall be allowed not to exceed ten cents per mile for each mile of necessary travel." (Emphasis supplied.)
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
However, as explained in our recent letters of May 29, 1974, to the prosecuting attorney of Okanogan county [[to Charles R. Byrd an Informal Opinion AIR-74608]]and August 2, 1974, to the prosecuting attorney of Skamania county [[to Robert K. Leick an Informal Opinion AIR-74609]], RCW 36.17.030, supra, was repealed by that 1974 amendment. Thus, as also indicated in the foregoing letters, the matter is now governed by another statute, RCW 42.24.090, which provides, in pertinent part, as follows:
". . . unless otherwise authorized by law, the legislative body of any municipal corporation or political subdivision of the state may prescribe by ordinance or resolution the amounts to be paid officers or employees thereof as reimbursement for the use of their personal automobiles or other transportation equipment in connection with officially assigned duties and other travel for approved public purposes, or as reimbursement to such officers or employees in lieu of actual expenses incurred for lodging, meals or other purposes. The rates for such reimbursements may be computed on a mileage, hourly, per diem or other basis as the respective legislative bodies shall determine to be proper in each instance."
Therefore, the answers to your questions, at this time, are essentially dependent upon (a) the existence and (b) the terms, of whatever county ordinance or resolution has been, or is, adopted by your particular board of county commissioners in the exercise of this authority. In the absence of any such ordinance or resolution, we would have to express considerable doubt as to either their entitlement or that of any other county officers or employees to such expense reimbursements as are contemplated by your questions, whether for the use of their own private automobiles or for meals or lodging expenses incurred in the performance of their official business. Conversely, if there is an ordinance or resolution dealing with this subject, their rights will be dependent upon policies set forth therein, as determined by the county commissioners in the exercise of the discretionary authority which they have thus been granted by RCW 42.24.090, supra. Accord, AGO 65-66 No. 76 [[to Sid Buckley, Prosecuting Attorney, Stevens County on March 7, 1966]], a copy of which you will also find enclosed, in which we advised that under this same statute:
". . . the board of county commissioners is [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] authorized to pass an ordinance or resolution fixing the amounts to be paid county employees for reimbursement of travel expenses incurred in the performance of their officially assigned duties. Travel expense authorization may include transportation, lodging and meals and other expenses necessarily incurred in the course of travel which are not gratuitious or purely personal in nature." (Emphasis supplied.)1/
In fact, with the elimination of RCW 36.17.030, supra, any such ordinance or resolution as heretofore may have already been adopted in accordance with that 1966 opinion could, most likely, readily be made applicable to county officers as well by a simple amendment, if necessary in view of its existing terms in a given instance.
Moreover, within the specific context of your questions, although AGO 65-66 No. 76 dealt only with what were there referred to as travel expenses, the ordinance or resolution could, legally, also provide for rates of reimbursement for meals and lodging expenses incurred without travel as well, so long as they are necessarily incurred by the officer or employee involved in the performance of his official assigned duties. Unlike RCW 36.17.030, the provisions of RCW 42.24.090, supra, are not limited solely to travel expenses.
We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General
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1/See, also, AGO 1974 No. 11 [[to Jeanette C. Hagner, State Representative on May 28, 1974]], copy enclosed.