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June 22, 1972
Honorable L. Edward Brown
Grays Harbor County
P.O. Box 529
Montesano, Washington 98563 Cite as: AGLO 1972 No. 49 (not official)
By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on a question relating to the administration of flood control zone districts under chapter 86.15 RCW. We paraphrase your question as follows:
Is the "county engineer" as that term is used in RCW 86.15.060 the same person as the "county road engineer" referred to in RCW 36.80.010?
In our opinion this question is answerable in the affirmative for the reason set forth in the following analysis.
Chapter 86.15 RCW sets forth a scheme for the establishment of one or more flood control zone districts (hereinafter referred to as "zones" in accordance with the definition contained in RCW 86.15.010) within any county for the purpose of undertaking, operating or maintaining flood control projects or groups of projects which specially benefit particular areas within the county. The formation of such zones may be initiated either by the board of county commissioners of the subject county or by a designated percentage of the electors residing within the area to be encompassed in the zone. See, RCW 86.15.020.
RCW 86.15.050 designates the board of county commissioners, ex-officio, as "supervisors of the zones created in each county" and RCW 86.15.140 requires this board to adopt an annual budget for each zone within the county. This latter statute reads, in material part, as follows:
"The board shall annually at the same time county budgets are prepared adopt a budget for each zone which shall be divided into the following appropriation items: (a) overhead and administration, (b) maintenance and operation, (c) construction and improvements, and (d) bond retirement and interest. In [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] preparing such budget, the board shall show the total amount to be expended in each appropriation item and proportionate share of each appropriation item to be paid from each account of the zone."
While the members of the board of county commissioners serve as "supervisors" of each zone in their county, the actual administration of the affairs of these zones is provided for in RCW 86.15.060 as follows:
"Administration of the affairs of zones shall be in the county engineer. The engineer may appoint such deputies and engage such employees, specialists and technicians as may be required by the zone and as are authorized by the zone's budget. Subject to the approval of the board, the engineer may organize, or reorganize as required, the zone into such departments, divisions or other administrative relationships as he deems necessary to its efficient operation." (Emphasis supplied.)
Your primary question is whether the term "county engineer" as used in this statute is actually a reference to the position of "county road engineer" as provided for in RCW 36.80.010. The full text of this latter statute, as last amended by § 6, chapter 182, Laws of 1969, 1st Ex. Sess., reads as follows:
"The board shall employ a full time county road engineer residing in the county: Provided, That in eighth and ninth class counties it may employ a county engineer on a part time basis who need not be a resident of such county, or may contract with other counties for the engineering services of a county road engineer from such other counties." (Emphasis supplied.)
We think it evident from the legislature's use of both terms in this single statute that the terms "county engineer" and "county road engineer" refer to the same individual. Notably, this same interchangeable use of these two terms also appears in the amendatory provision of § 9, chapter 182, supra, amending RCW 36.80.040 to read as follows:
"The office of county engineer shall be an office of record; the county road engineer shall record and file in his office, all matters concerning the public roads, highways, bridges, ditches, or other surveys of his county, with the original papers, documents, petitions, surveys, repairs, and other papers, in [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] order to have the complete history of any such road, highway, bridge, ditch, or other survey; and shall number each construction or improvement project." (Emphasis supplied.)
Moreover, lest there be any doubt that the legislature was, in reality, referring to the county road engineer when it used the term "county engineer" in §§ 6 and 9 of chapter 182, supra, we invite your attention to the following exchange between Representatives Sawyer and Berentson during floor debate on this enactment, as recorded in the House Journal at page 459:
Mr. Sawyer: "Mr. Berentson, is this the bill which, in effect, transfers the administration of the roads in the counties from the county commissioners to the engineer?"
Mr. Berentson: "It is my understanding, Mr. Sawyer, that it does not do this, in effect. I think the existing statute pretty well spells out the powers of the county engineer, and they are releasing the county commissioners from some reports that are, in fact, duplicating what the county engineer is designated to do now. I don't think there has been any opposition on the part of the county engineers or commissioners as to the authority granted here."
Mr. Sawyer: "What I am asking is, 'If I had a road problem, would I go to my county commissioners or would I have to go up to the engineer?'"
Mr. Berentson: "You would go to your county commissioner. The engineer is subservient to the county commissioner."
It is, of course, well settled that legislative debate pending the enactment of a statute may be considered in construing an enactment which appears to be ambiguous on its face, as here. See, State v. Coma, 69 Wn.2d 177, 417 P.2d 853 (1966); and Ropo, Inc. v. City of Seattle, 67 Wn.2d 574, 409 P.2d 148 (1965).
This brings us, then, back to the terminology of RCW 86.15.060, supra. As indicated by such cases as City of Tacoma v. Perkins, 42 Wn.2d 80, 253 P.2d 957 (1953), statutes relating [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] to the workings of municipal corporations are to be construed in such a manner as to produce a consistent and workable governmental system wherever possible. Furthermore, unless the term "county engineer" as used in RCW 86.15.060 is taken to mean the same person as is referred to as the "county road engineer" in RCW 36.80.010, the result would be that no person would exist within county government to perform the administrative functions required by the first of these two statutes ‑ an absurd consequence to be avoided in attempting to reconcile these statutes unless it is impossible to do so. Accord, Wilson, et al. v. Lund, et al., 74 Wn.2d 945, 447 P.2d 718 (1968), and cases cited therein.
Applying both of these rules of statutory construction to the matter at hand, we have no hesitation whatsoever in concluding that the "county engineer" upon whom responsibility for flood control zone districts is imposed by RCW 86.15.060, supra, is the same person as the "county road engineer" as that term is used in RCW 36.80.010, supra. Accordingly, we answer your basic question in the affirmative.
In addition to posing this question you have, by your letter, suggested a concern in terms of the responsibilities of the county engineer to administer the operations of a flood control zone district in a case where the county commissioners fail to adopt a sufficient budget for the zone to fund its operations.
Since RCW 86.15.060, supra, expressly conditions the ability of the engineer to ". . . appoint such deputies and engage such employees, . . . as may be required by the zone . . ." upon an authorization within the zone's budget, it obviously follows that the engineer's ability to engage such assistance in a given case will be dependent upon the adoption of a sufficient budget by the county commissioners in accordance with the mandate of RCW 86.15.140, supra. However, since this latter statute makes it a duty of the board of county commissioners to adopt an annual budget for each zone within the county, we must presume, in accordance with long-standing policy, that this duty will be performed.1/ As indicated by AGO 59-60 No. 113 [[to Damon R. Canfield, State Representative, April 19, 1960]], (copy enclosed referring, in turn, to an earlier opinion written to the state superintendent of public instruction on August 21, 1897) it is contrary to office policy for us to advise on any question which [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] is predicated upon an hypothesis which assumes primarily an intent on the part of a public officer to violate the law.
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
THOMAS F. CARR
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See RCW 86.15.150 and 86.15.160 with regard to the financial resources which are available to the commissioners in financing the operations of a flood control zone district.