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November 22, 1972
Honorable George F. Hanigan
Cathlamet, Washington 98612
Cite as: AGLO 1972 No. 81 (not official)
This is written in response to your recent request for our opinion on two questions pertaining to the constitutional amendment contained in S.J.R. No. 38, as approved by the voters at the recent, November 7, 1972, state general election. We paraphrase your questions as follows:
(1) Is the constitutional amendment contained in S.J.R. No. 38 a self-executing grant of power to the legislative authorities of the various counties to prescribe their own salaries and the salaries of other county officers?
(2) Assuming a negative answer to question (1), does S.J.R. No. 38 permit the state legislature to delegate to the legislative authorities of the various counties the right to prescribe the salaries of those county officers who, by law, exercise the powers and perform the duties of two or more county offices; e.g., a prosecuting attorney-coroner in counties of the fourth class and below?
We answer question (1) in the negative and question (2) in the affirmative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.
As originally adopted, §§ 5 and 8 of Article XI of the state Constitution required that the salaries of all county officers be fixed by the state legislature. Accord, AGO 65-66 No. 115 [[to Perry B. Woodall, State Senator on October 20, 1966]], copy enclosed. However, by their approval of S.J.R. No. 38 at the recent, November 7, 1972, state general election the people amended these [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] sections to read as follows:
Article XI, § 5:
"The legislature, by general and uniform laws, shall provide for the election in the several counties of boards of county commissioners, sheriffs, county clerks, treasurers, prosecuting attorneys and other county, township or precinct and district officers, as public convenience may require, and shall prescribe their duties, and fix their terms of office: PROVIDED, That the legislature may, by general laws, classify the counties by population and provide for the election in certain classes of counties certain officers who shall exercise the powers and perform the duties of two or more officers. It shall regulate the compensation of all such officers, in proportion to their duties, and for that purpose may classify the counties by population: PROVIDED, That it may delegate to the legislative authority of the counties the right to prescribe the salaries of its own members and the salaries of other county officers. And it shall provide for the strict accountability of such officers for all fees which may be collected by them and for all public moneys which may be paid to them, or officially come into their possession."
Article XI, § 8:
"((The legislature shall fix the compensation by salaries of all county officers, and of constables in cities having a population of five thousand and upwards; except that public administrators, surveyors and coroners may or may not be salaried officers.)) The salary of any county, city, town, or municipal officers shall not be increased except as provided in section 1 of Article XXX or diminished after his election, or during his term of office; nor shall the term of any such officer be extended beyond the period for which he is elected or appointed."
We are in complete agreement with you that the proviso which was added to Article XI, § 5, supra, by this amendment merely authorizes the legislature to delegate its previous [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] function of fixing county officers' salaries to the legislative authorities of the counties. It is not a self-executing grant of power to these county legislative authorities to fix such salaries. Your first question, therefore, is answered in the negative.
Your second question has reference to those instances where the legislature, in classifying counties by population, has provided for the election in certain classes of counties of officers who are to exercise the powers and perform the duties of two or more county offices ‑ as contemplated by the first proviso to Article XI, § 5, supra, which was added to that section by an earlier amendment (the 12th) in 1924. You have cited, in particular, the situation in counties of the fourth class and below where the prosecuting attorney serves, ex officio, as the county coroner. See, RCW 36.16.030, which also provides that in ninth class counties no county auditor or assessor is to be elected and, instead, the county clerk is to serve, ex officio, as county auditor and the county treasurer, ex officio, as county assessor. Likewise, under RCW 36.16.032, the offices of county auditor and clerk may be combined in eighth class counties by unanimous resolution of the board of county commissioners.
However, irrespective of whether an individual performs the functions of but a single county office or those of two such offices, he remains, in any event, a "county officer" within the meaning of Article XI, § 5, supra. Accordingly, it seems perfectly clear to us that the state legislature, if it determines to exercise the authority granted to it by S.J.R. No. 38, may delegate to the legislative authorities of the various counties the right to prescribe the salaries of those county officers who perform more than one function as well as those who perform only the functions of a single county office. Thus, we answer your second question in the affirmative.
We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General