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AGO 1961 No. 18 - March 21, 1961
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington
DISTRICTS ‑- FIRE PROTECTION ‑- AUTHORITY TO PAY PREMIUMS FOR GROUP LIFE INSURANCE

The board of commissioners of a fire protection district is not legally authorized to pay part or all of the premiums of group life insurance for the nonpaid volunteer firemen or the paid fire chief and secretary of the district, covering them both on and off duty.

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                                                                  March 21, 1961

Honorable Ray E. Munson
Prosecuting Attorney
Yakima County
Yakima, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 18

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on the following question:

            "May a Fire Protection District pay part, or all, of the $3.50 premium per person per month for $5,000 per person of group life insurance for all the non-paid voluntary firemen, and the paid fire chief and secretary of such District?"

            We answer your question in the negative as qualified in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            According to the background information which you have submitted relative to the specific question presented, the group life insurance plan in which the fire protection districts in your county desire to participate by paying part or all of the monthly premiums would provide a group policy insuring the life of the insured personnel "on and off the job, seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day."  Our analysis and conclusion will, accordingly, be directed to the question of the authority of a fire protection district to so participate in such a plan, and should not be read as passing  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] upon the more limited question of whether a fire protection district may provide death benefits in one form or another for volunteer firemen only, who may die as a result of sickness or injury incurred in the actual performance of duty.  Limited authority in this latter area would appear to exist pursuant to so much of RCW 41.24.020 (1) (relating to the Volunteer Firemen's Relief and Pension System) as reads as follows:

            "(1) Every municipal corporation [including fire protection districts, RCW 41.24.010] maintaining and operating a regularly organized fire department shall make provision by appropriate legislation for the enrollment of every fireman under the relief and compensation provisions of this chapter for the purpose of providing protection for all its firemen and their families from death or disabilityarising in the performance of their duties as firemen: Provided, That nothing herein shall prohibit any municipality [including fire protection districts, RCW 41.24.010] from providing such additional protection for relief and compensation, or death benefit as it may deem proper."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            For our views with regard to the significance of this statute, with emphasis upon the proviso contained therein, see AGO 59-60 No. 154, dated October 27, 1960, to State Senator Don L. Talley, a copy of which is enclosed herein.

            We turn, then, to a consideration of the broader question which you have posed.

            Generally, in analyzing the problem of whether or not a particular class or type of municipal corporation, such as a fire protection district, has a particular power, our court has applied the fundamental rule that a municipal corporation has only such powers as have been expressly granted to it by statute, or as are necessarily implied from the powers expressly granted and has taken the position that if there is doubt as to whether a power had been granted, it must be denied.  Pacific First Federal Savings and Loan Association v. Pierce County, 27 Wn. (2d) 347, 178 P. (2d) 351 (1947).

            An examination of the statutes governing the formation and operation of fire protection districts (Title 52 RCW) reveals that the power to pay all or part of the premiums on group life insurance for either its nonpaid volunteer firemen or its compensated fire chief and secretary has not been expressly granted, (with the  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] limited exception of RCW 41.24.020,supra).  However the power "to appoint and employ the necessary officers, agents and employees," (RCW 52.08.020) as well as the broad power "To do all things and perform all acts not otherwise prohibited by law.", (RCW 52.08.030 (7)) has been granted.  The question, then, to be here determined, is whether in the absence of an express grant of the power in question this power is to be implied beyond reasonable doubt from either the expressly granted power to employ or the broad power to do all things not otherwise prohibited by law.

            We believe this question must be answered in the negative.  We are here dealing with a particular type of municipal activity (i.e., the providing of various types of "fringe benefits" for employees or others rendering services) with regard to which we believe the legislature has established a policy of spelling out clearly and expressly its intention to authorize such activity in those areas where such is in fact its intent.  That is to say, an examination of statutes relating to certain types or classes of municipal corporations, other than fire protection districts, reveals a general course of legislative policy to grant the power to pay or provide fringe benefits, over and above normal and basic compensation, only by clear and express language evidencing such intent.  See for example, RCW 53.08.170 (expressly authorizing port districts to provide "life, accident, or health disability insurance," for its employees); RCW 28.76.410 (expressly authorizing school districts to provide "liability, life, health and accident insurance or any one of, or a combination of the enumerated types of insurance for . . . employees of the . . . school district."); RCW 54.04.050 (expressly authorizing public utility districts to "enter into contracts of group insurance for the benefit of its employees, and pay all or any part of the premiums for such insurance."); and RCW 36.32.400 (providing that "Any county by a majority vote of its board of county commissioners may enter into contracts to provide health care services and/or group insurance for the benefit of its employees, and may pay all or any part of the cost thereof. . . .").

            The existence of this pattern of legislation, together with the absence of any express grant of power to fire protection districts to provide for its employees or volunteers the fringe benefit of group life insurance (again with the limited exception of RCW 41.24.020, supra), makes it at least doubtful that the legislature has thus far determined that fire protection districts should have this power.  See 3 Sutherland, Statutory Construction (3rd Ed.) 156, § 6101, etc.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Further doubt as to the existence of this power in fire protection districts arises from the application of the rule of statutory construction that a municipal power will be implied from an expressly granted power only where reasonably necessary in order that the type of municipal corporation in question may properly fulfill the purposes and obtain the objectives for which it was created.  State v. Melton, 41 Wn. (2d) 298, 248 P. (2d) 892 (1952); State ex rel. Hunter v. Superior Court, 34 Wn. (2d) 214, 208 P. (2d) 866 (1949).  We do not believe it can be said as a matter of law that the power to provide group life insurance for its employees or volunteers is reasonably necessary for the fulfillment of the functions of a fire protection district or somewhat more specifically, for the exercise of the express power to hire.

            Consequently, in view of this considerable amount of doubt as to the existence of the specific power in question, and in line with the rule of strict construction to which we referred at the beginning of this opinion, we are compelled to conclude that the power to provide or pay for group life insurance for its officers, employees, or volunteers, covering them whether on duty or off, has not been granted to fire protection districts.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Assistant Attorney General

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