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AGO 1963 No. 35 - July 15, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


MUNICIPALITIES ‑- JOINT OWNERSHIP AND OPERATION OF PUBLIC AIRPORT ‑- CONTRACTS FOR PUBLIC WORK OR FOR PURCHASE OF EQUIPMENT OR OTHER PERSONAL PROPERTY.

There is no state law requiring the board administering a jointly-operated municipal airport to call for bids for construction of public works or for the purchase of equipment or other personal property.  A jointly operated municipal airport is specifically authorized by state law to acquire such property by negotiation.

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                                                                    July 15, 1963

Honorable Jerry Moore
Prosecuting Attorney
Lewis County
P.O. Box 8
Centralia, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 35

Dear Sir:

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

            Are contracts for public works, or for the purchase of equipment or other personal property, when made by a board administering a jointly-operated municipal airport under RCW 14.08.200, governed by (a) RCW 36.32.250, or (b) RCW 35.23.352, or (c) any other public bid law?

            We answer your question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The ownership and operation of airports by municipalities is authorized by chapter 14.08 RCW, codifying chapter 182, Laws of 1945, as amended.  RCW 14.08.010 defines "municipality" to mean "any county, city, town, or port district of this state."  RCW 14.08.200 authorizes the joint operation of public airports by two or more municipalities, or by the state and one or more municipality.

            It is by authority of this section, as you have stated, that the cities of Centralia and Chehalis, and Lewis County, are currently engaged in the joint operation of the "Chehalis-Centralia Airport."   [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] The joint operation, as provided for in RCW 14.08.200,supra, is to be conducted in accordance with an agreement executed by the participating municipalities.  See, subsections (3) and (4).

            RCW 14.08.200 (5) provides:

            "Municipalities acting jointly as herein authorized shall create a board from the inhabitants of such municipalities for the purpose of acquiring property for, establishing, constructing, enlarging, improving, maintaining, equipping, operating and regulating the airports and other air navigation facilities and airport protection privileges to be jointly acquired, controlled, and operated. . . ."

            Your question rephrased is whether this board must comply with RCW 36.32.250 or RCW 35.23.352, or any other bid law in letting contracts for work or the purchase of equipment or other personal property.

            Of course, it is well established that in the absence of an express statute, public advertising or competition is not required in the making of public purchases or the letting of public contracts.  Reiter v. Chapman, 177 Wash. 392, 31 P.2d 1005 (1934); recently followed inPetschl v. Century 21 Corporation, Inc., 161 Wash. Dec. 274 [[61 Wn.2d 276]], 377 P.2d 991 (1963).  Therefore, by the same token, a statutory bid law which by its own terms is applicable only tosome body or agencyother than an airport board functioning under RCW 14.08.200 (5),supra, need not be followed by such a board.

            Consequently, we are of the opinion that neither RCW 36.32.250 nor RCW 35.23.352 govern purchases or public works contracts of an airport board.

            RCW 36.32.250 provides in material part:

            "No contract or purchase shall be entered into by the board of county commissioners or by any elected or appointed officer of such county until after bids have been submitted to the board of county commissioners upon specifications therefor. . . . In the letting of any contract or purchase involving less than one thousand dollars advertisement and competitive bidding may be dispensed with on order of the board of county commissioners. . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Clearly, the section has application only to such contracts as are within the jurisdiction of the board of county commissioners or the elected or appointed officersof a county.

            Similarly, RCW 35.23.352 is limited, by its own terms, to contracts entered into by a city or town of the second, third or fourth class.

            A contract entered into by an airport board functioning under RCW 14.08.200 (5),supra, cannot be said to be exclusively the contract of a county, under the jurisdiction of the board of county commissioners or other county officials, nor is it the contract of a city or town.  Rather, the contract is a contract of two or more municipalities operating a joint venture pursuant to RCW 14.08.200,supra.

            With regard to the acquisition of property by the board of such a "joint venture" municipal airport, RCW 14.08.200 (7) provides:

            ". . . Real property, airports, restricted landing areas, air protection privileges,or personal property costing in excess of a sum to be fixed by the joint agreement, may be acquired, and condemnation proceedings may be instituted, only by approval of the governing bodies of each of the municipalities involved; upon the approval of the governing body, or if no approval be necessary then upon the board's own determination, such property may be acquiredby private negotiation under such terms and conditions as to the board may seem just and proper. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Accordingly, because of this provision and because of the absence of any competitive bidding statute made expressly applicable to jointly-operated municipal airports under RCW 14.08.200, supra, it is our opinion that contracts for public works, or for the purchase of equipment or other personal property, when made by a board administering such a jointly operated municipal airport, may be let without a public call for bids; i.e., may be consummated by private negotiation.

            In stating this conclusion, however, we are not to be deemed to have recommended, from a policy standpoint, that competitive bidding never be indulged in by a joint municipal airport board.  In AGO 55-57 No. 279 [[to Superintendent of Public Instruction on May 28, 1956]], we found no bid law expressly applicable to another form of municipal corporation.  However, notwithstanding the absence of such a requirement, we said:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            ". . . We can think of no more effective method [collective bidding] . . . to demonstrate to the electors that they are discharging their duties in a manner calculated to provide the district with the most prudent investment of their tax dollars."

            We trust 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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