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September 29, 1970
Honorable E. R. Whitmore, Jr.
P.O. Box 596
Wenatchee, Washington 98801
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 122
By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question involving the distribution of certain public utility district privilege tax revenues under RCW 54.28.090. As we understand it, the factual situation giving rise to this question is as follows:
The Douglas county public utility district owns and operates certain electrical generating facilities ("operating properties" as defined in RCW 54.28.010) which are located within Chelan county. These facilities are also located within the boundaries of a certain "joint" (i.e., multi-county, see RCW 28A.57.230) school district which covers portions of Chelan and Okanogan counties. The "operating facilities" in question are the only ones operated by the Douglas county public utility district within Chelan county. The only high school which is being operated by the joint school district in question is located in that portion of the school district which is located within Okanogan county.
Is the school district entitled to receive at least thirty-five percent of that portion of the public utility district's privilege taxes paid under chapter 54.28 RCW which are distributable to Chelan county for allocation to its taxing districts under RCW 54.28.090?
We answer this question in the affirmative for the reasons stated below.
Chapter 54.28 RCW provides for the collection and distribution of a privilege tax upon the operation of electrical generating facilities by public utility districts. See, in particular, RCW 54.28.020 which specifies the method [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of computing the tax, based upon various factors related to the amount of electrical energy produced by a district's generating facilities. Under RCW 54.28.040, the amount of this tax is computed by the state department of revenue and, after it is paid by the public utility district, it is deposited with the state treasurer to be distributed as provided for in RCW 54.28.050.
In this manner, a major portion of the tax revenues paid by the various public utility districts are returned to the counties in which the particular public utility districts are located and operating. Upon receipt of these revenues, the county commissioners in each county are directed to allocate then among the various taxing districts in the county ‑ by RCW 54.28.090, which reads as follows:
"The county commissioners of each county shall direct the county treasurer to deposit funds to the credit of each taxing district in the county according to the manner they deem most equitable; except not less than thirty-five percent of all moneys so received shall be apportioned to the school districts within the county having district properties within their limits, and not less than an amount equal to three‑fourths of one percent of the gross revenues obtained by a district from the sale of electric energy within any incorporated city or town shall be remitted to such city or town. Information furnished by the district to the county commissioners shall be the basis for the determination of the amount to be paid to such cities or towns." (Emphasis supplied.)
As you have indicated in your letter, if this statute is read alone in considering your question, there can be no doubt that it entitles the school district in question to receive at least thirty-five percent of the public utility district's privilege tax revenues which are distributable to Chelan county on the basis of the Douglas county public utility district's operations within Chelan county. However, you have advised us that a question has been raised as to the correctness of this approach in view of the following provisions of RCW 28A.57.250, governing the administration and funding of multi-county, or "joint" school districts.
"For all purposes essential to the maintenance, operation, and administration of the schools of [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] a district, including the apportionment of current state and county school funds, a joint school district shall be considered as belonging to the county in which the high school of said district . . . is situated, . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)
We do not believe that the provisions of this statute in any way alter or affect the right of the school district to which your question refers to receive those Douglas county public utility district's privilege tax revenues which would be distributable to it under RCW 54.28.090, supra, on its face. Only if the terms "within the county" (RCW 54.28.090) and "belonging to the county" (RCW 28A.57.250) were to be regarded as terms which, of necessity, would have to mean precisely the same thing it would then have to follow that this school district would not be entitled to receive the public utility district's privilege tax revenues distributable to Chelan county ‑ on the ground that the district, because it "belonged to" Okanogan county, was not located "within" Chelan county. However, it seems perfectly obvious to us that these two terms do not mean the same thing. Clearly, a school district may be located partially within one county while belonging to another county for purposes of administration under RCW 28A.57.250, supra ‑ by virtue of the very definition of "joint" school district.1/ Therefore, it is entirely possible to reconcile the two apparently conflicting statutes (RCW 54.28.090 and RCW 28A.57.250) and construe them in such a manner as to avoid an absurd result under the factual situation presented by your question.
But moreover, even if it were not possible to reconcile the two statutes in this manner, it would be our opinion that any conflict between them with respect to the subject matter under consideration would have to be resolved in favor of RCW 54.28.090. This statute codifies the provisions of § 10, chapter 278, Laws of 1957, whereas RCW 28A.57.250 codifies a part of an earlier, 1947 act ‑ i.e., § 27, chapter 296, Laws of 1947. Furthermore, RCW 54.28.090 is clearly a special act dealing with the distribution of certain [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] revenues, whereas RCW 28A.57.250 is a general act dealing with the administration of all of the affairs of joint school districts. Therefore, under the well-established rule of statutory construction that a later special act will be regarded as exception or qualification to the terms of a prior or general act,2/ it follows that in any event, a joint school district's rights to the allocation of its share of the county's distributable portion of the public utility district's privilege taxes are governed by RCW 54.28.090, just as are the rights of any other school district, to the exclusion of any arguably contrary requirements of RCW 28A.57.250.
Accordingly, as indicated at the outset, our answer to the question you have posed on the basis of the factual situation underlying your question is in the affirmative.3/
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Donald Foss, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
1/See, RCW 28A.57.230, which defines a joint school district as "Any school district composed of territory lying in more than one county . . ."
2/See, People v. Breyer, 139 Cal.App. 547, 34 P.2d 1065, 1066 (1934).
3/In so concluding we have not overlooked AGO 61-62 No. 161 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Klickitat County on September 5, 1962]], copy enclosed, dealing with a county's use of certain of its federal forest funds for construction of joint school district facilities which were physically located in another county. However, that opinion dealt with an entirely different statute which limited the expenditure of county funds for the benefit of ". . . the public schools . . . thereof" ‑ i.e., of the county. Accordingly, we consider that opinion to be distinguishable from the matter being considered in this opinion.