- - - - - - - - - - - - -
September 9, 1970
Honorable Joseph Panattoni
P.O. Box 577
Ellensburg, Washington 98926
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 119
This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our advice on a question pertaining to the authority of a board of county commissioners under the provisions of RCW 70.44.030.
This statute pertains to the formation of hospital districts encompassing an area covering less than an entire county. It reads as follows:
"Any petition for the formation of a public hospital district may describe a less area than the entire county in which the petition is filed, the boundaries of which shall follow the then existing precinct boundaries and not divide any voting precinct; and in the event that such a petition is filed containing not less than ten percent of the voters of the proposed district who voted at the last general election, certified by the auditor in like manner as for a county-wide district, the board of county commissioners shall fix a date for a hearing on such petition, and shall publish the petition, without the signatures thereto appended, for two weeks prior to the date of hearing, together with a notice stating the time of the meeting when such petition will be heard. Such publications required by this chapter shall be in a newspaper published in the proposed or established public hospital district, or, if there be no such newspaper, then in a newspaper published in the county in which such district is situated, and of general circulation in such county. The hearing on such petition may be adjourned from time to time, not exceeding four weeks in all. If upon the final [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] hearing the board of county commissioners shall find that any lands have been unjustly or improperly included within the proposed public hospital district the said board shall change and fix the boundary lines in such manner as it shall deem reasonable and just and conducive to the welfare and convenience and make and enter an order establishing and defining the boundary lines of the proposed public hospital district: Provided, That no lands shall be included within the boundaries so fixed lying outside the boundaries described in the petition, except upon the written request of the owners of such lands. Thereafter the same procedure shall be followed as prescribed in this chapter for the formation of a public hospital district including an entire county, except that the petition and election shall be confined solely to the lesser public hospital district." (Emphasis supplied.)
You have stated your question with respect to the authority of a board of county commissioners under this statute as follows:
"My question is whether or not the county commissioners at their hearing on the boundaries may change the boundaries of the proposed district so that they do not follow precinct lines and second, whether or not the commissioners have authority at such hearing to omit an entire precinct which has been included in the petition."
You have also indicated in your letter that some expression of our opinion on this question is essential prior to the final hearing of the board of county commissioners with respect to the particular proposed district, which is currently scheduled to be held on September 14, 1970, so what follows should simply be regarded as constituting our best judgment as to the meaning and intent of the legislature as manifested by its enactment of the subject statute, based upon our review of the statute in the limited period of time we have had since receipt of your opinion request. Of course, any decision which the board may make with respect to the matter must be regarded as being reviewable in the courts, should the appropriate procedures for obtaining judicial review be initiated by any persons aggrieved by the board's decision and order.
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
As we understand it, neither of the two component parts of your question contemplate the addition of any territory to the area of the proposed hospital district as described in the initial petition. Accordingly, the proviso to RCW 70.44.030, as quoted above, need not, and will not, be considered in this opinion.
With regard to the authority of a board of county commissioners to delete territory from the area of a proposed partial county hospital district as described in the initial petition therefor, the critical point to be first noted is that the authority of a board of county commissioners to make such a deletion before submitting the question of formation of the district to the voters1/ is predicated upon a finding by the board of county commissioners that the lands to be deleted ". . . have been unjustly or improperly included within the proposed public hospital district . . ." Only on the basis of such a finding can the board delete any territory from the area of the proposed district; and then, obviously, the only territory which can be deleted is that which has been found to have been unjustly or improperly included in the initial petition.
Secondly, once this initial determination has been made by the board, the requirement of the statute is that the board ". . . shall change and fix the boundary lines in such manner as it shall deem reasonable and just and conducive to the welfare and convenience, . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)
Clearly, if an entire voting precinct is encompassed in an area which the county commissioners have determined to have been "unjustly or improperly" included within a proposed district, and if, in their judgment, the deletion of this entire precinct will cause the boundary lines of the proposed district to be ". . . reasonable and just and conducive to the welfare and convenience, . . ." then the board is authorized to delete this entire voting precinct from the boundary of the proposed hospital district. However, as we read the statute, it would also be entirely proper, based upon a comparable determination by the board that only part of a voting precinct was "unjustly or improperly" included within the initial petition, for it to delete only such portion of the precinct, for we see no requirement in the statute that the hospital district, as finally organized (as distinguished [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] from the district as initially proposed) must adhere, in all respects, to the boundaries of the existing voting precincts.
We trust the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See, RCW 70.44.020.