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AGO 1962 No. 124 - April 25, 1962
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY COMMISSIONERS ‑- ROAD FUNDS ‑- PURCHASE OF AUTOMOBILE FOR ROAD INSPECTOR ‑- DEPUTY SHERIFF.

The county commissioners may expend some road funds to pay part but not all the cost of an automobile to be used by a person employed by the county as road inspector and by the sheriff as a deputy sheriff.

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                                                                   April 25, 1962

Honorable James M. Hay
Prosecuting Attorney
Island County
Coupeville, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 124

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May the county commissioners legally purchase solely from county road funds a vehicle to be used by a county road inspector in performance of his duties, the inspector also being a deputy sheriff who will incidentally perform sheriff's duties?

            We answer your question in the negative as explained in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It appears that the county commissioners wish to appoint or have appointed someone to act as a road inspector for the county.  His duties would include a maintenance patrol during which he would inspect ditches and culverts, road signs, traffic safety devices, and further report debris conditions and other hazards.  They intend, if possible, to purchase his vehicle from county road funds.  However, the commissioners also plan that the inspector will be a validly appointed deputy sheriff who will perform, in addition to his road inspector duties, duties for the sheriff's office when traffic or other law violations come to his attention.

            The answer to your question can be stated as follows: County road funds can be expended only for proper county road purposes (RCW 36.82.040, RCW 36.82.070 and RCW 43.09.210); county law enforcement is vested exclusively in the elective office of sheriff and is not a proper county road purpose(State ex rel. Johnston v. Melton, 192 Wash.  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] 379, 73 P. (2d) 1334 (1937) and AGO 61-62 No. 26); therefore the county commissioners cannot legally purchase a vehicle solely from county road funds to be used for law enforcement purposes.

            In AGO 61-62 No. 26 to the Honorable Wayne Roethler, Prosecuting Attorney, Cowlitz County, dated May 2, 1961, this office, faced withexactly the same facts, considered the question of who should or could pay the salary of a road inspector-deputy sheriff.  It was concluded, using substantially the same reasoning as above, that the salary of such an individual must be shared by the county road fund and the sheriff's office in such proportion as the services rendered to each bore to the total services rendered.

            Since the automobile is not to be used solely for county road purposes, it cannot be purchased solely from county road funds.  Also, since it will not be used solely for sheriff's purposes, it cannot be purchased solely from funds of the sheriff's office.  Thus the same formula applied to the wages of a road inspector-deputy sheriff must be applied to the purchase and upkeep of an automobile to be used by him.

            However, using county road funds for county road purposes is not the only limitation which affects our answer.  RCW 36.82.020 provides in part:

            "Any funds accruing to and to be deposited in the county road fund arising from any levy in any road district shall be expended for proper county road purposesentirely within the limits of the road district from which the same was or is collected: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Monies collected through a levy on property within a certain district are deposited in the general county road fund, but the county auditor under the provisions of RCW 36.82.030 must:

            ". . . set up within the county road fund . . . a separate fund for each road district and keep a separate and detailed accounting of all funds arising from any levy . . . in each such road district . . ."

            Thus monies collected by levy in a road district can only be spent for road purposes of the district from which they are collected.  Since a road inspector would cover the entire county in performing his duties, it would be improper for an automobile used in these duties to be purchased with district levy funds.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In summary, it would be improper to purchase an automobile for the use of a road inspector-deputy sheriff solely from county road funds.  However, it would be proper to use some county road funds to purchase an automobile for such an individual assuming the funds used bore the proper relationship to the use to which the car is put, and further assuming no funds raised by district levy are used.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

BRUCE W. COHOE
Assistant Attorney General

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