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AGO 1963 No. 49 - August 15, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


A city of the third class may operate a trailer court and overnight camping area and charge a rate which will yield a fair profit or at least provide a reasonable margin to anticipate future deficits.

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                                                                 August 15, 1963

Honorable Roy Mundy
State Representative, 13th District
118 Mocliff Road
Ephrata, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 49

Dear Sir:

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

            May a city of the third class operate a trailer court and overnight camping area for profit?

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


            A city of the third class, as a municipal corporation, has only the powers granted to it expressly by statute, and those powers which are necessarily implied from the powers expressly granted.  Othello v. Harder, 46 Wn.2d 747, 284 P.2d 1099 (1955); Pacific Etc. Ass'n v. Pierce County, 27 Wn.2d 347, 178 P.2d 351 (1947), andState ex rel. Port of Seattle v. Sup'r Ct., 93 Wash. 267, 160 Pac. 755 (1916).  See, also, 37 Am.Jur., Municipal Corporations, § 4, p. 620, and § 7, p. 626; 2 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations (3rd ed.) § 4.04, p. 12, and § 10.03, p. 578.

            The power of municipal corporations to engage in business in general was described in 12 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations (3rd ed.) § 36.02, p. 702:

            "The object of the creation of a municipal corporation is that it may perform certain local public functions as a subordinate branch of the state government; and, while  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] it is invested with full power to do everything necessarily incident to a proper discharge thereof, no right to do more can ever be implied.  In the absence of express legislative sanction, it has no authority to engage in any independent business enterprise or occupation such as is usually pursued by private individuals. . . ."

            Our legislature has seen fit to grant certain governmental units the power to establish and operate public camps as well as to make charges therefor pursuant to RCW 67.20.015, which provides:

            "Any city, town, county, separately organized park district, or school district shall have power to establish, care for, control, supervise, improve, operate and maintain a public camp, or camps anywhere within the state, and to that end may make, promulgate and enforce any reasonable rules and regulations in reference to such camps and make such charges for the use thereof as may be deemed expedient."

            Further emphasis upon this grant of power is contained in RCW 67.20.030, providing:

            "This chapter shall not be construed to repeal or limit any existing power of any city or park district, but to grant powers in addition thereto."

            Accordingly, any city, including a city of the third class, has the power to establish "public camps" and may ". . . make such charges for the use . . . as may be deemed expedient."

            The words of a statute will be understood by the courts in the same sense in which they are generally understood by the average person.  In re Bordeau's Estate, 37 Wn.2d 561, 225 P.2d 4033 (1950).  See, also,Cochran v. Nelson, 26 Wn.2d 82, 173 P.2d 769 (1946); State v. Houck, 32 Wn.2d 681, 203 P.2d 693 (1949).  The courts have used dictionary definitions to establish ordinary meanings of words.  See, for instance,Batchelor v. Madison Park Corp., 25 Wn.2d 907, 924, 925, 172 P.2d 268 (1946).  The word "camp," as defined in Webster's New 20th Century Dictionary (2d ed. 1960), includes:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "4 (a) a group of tents, etc., used for temporary lodgings; (b) a tent, cabin or the like, used for outings or vacations."

            In our opinion, therefore, it seems clear that the phrase "public camp or camps" is, in the permissive language of RCW 67.20.015, supra, sufficiently broad to include a trailer court and overnight camping area.

            No doubt the charges made by the city must be reasonable.  See, 12 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, § 35.37, relating to the comparable situation where a municipal corporation furnishes utilities such as water or light.  However, even in such cases as light and water operations, it is generally held that the municipality may charge a rate which will yield a fair profit.  12 McQuillin,supra; at least to the extent of a reasonable margin to anticipate future deficits.  See, AGO 55-57 No. 155 [[to Ralph Purvis State Representative on November 2, 1955]], a copy of which is enclosed, and authorities cited therein.

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

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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