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AGO 1985 No. 14 - August 21, 1985
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- STATUTES ‑- TAXATION ‑- GEOGRAPHICAL SCOPE OF COUNTY TAXATION AUTHORITY TO PROVIDE EMERGENCY SERVICES COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM

The provisions of RCW 82.14B.010, etseq., authorize a county, in imposing an excise tax on the use of telephone lines in order to provide an emergency services communications system, to do so within incorporated cities and towns as well as the unincorporated areas of the county. 

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                                                                 August 21, 1985 

Honorable Paul Klasen
Grant County Prosecuting Attorney
P.O. Box 37
Ephrata, Washington 98823

Cite as:  AGO 1985 No. 14                                                                                                                

 Dear Sir:

             By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

             Does RCW 82.14B.010,etseq., authorize a county, in imposing an excise tax on the use of telephone lines in order to provide an emergency services communications system, to do so within incorporated cities and towns as well as unincorporated areas of the county?

             We respond to your question in the affirmative for the reasons set forth below.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             RCW 82.14B.010 provides:

             "The legislature finds that counties should be provided with an additional revenue source to fund emergency service communication systems on a county-wide basis.  The legislature further finds that the most efficient and appropriate method of deriving additional revenue for this purpose is to vest the legislative authorities of the counties, subject to voter approval, with the power to impose an excise tax on the use of telephone access lines."

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            In turn, RCW 82.14B.030 then provides:

             "The legislative authority of a county may impose an excise tax on the use of telephone access lines in an amount not exceeding fifty cents per month for each telephone access line.  The amount of tax shall be uniform for each telephone access line.  This tax must be approved by a favorable vote of at least three‑fifths of the electors thereof voting on the proposition, at which election the number of persons voting 'yes' on the proposition shall constitute three‑fifths of a number equal to forty per centum of the total votes cast in the county at the last preceding general election when the number of electors voting on the proposition does not exceed forty per centum of the total votes cast in the county in the last preceding general election; or by a majority of at least three‑fifths of the electors thereof voting on the proposition when the number of electors voting on the proposition exceeds forty per centum of the total votes cast in the county in the last preceding general election.  This tax may be imposed for six years without subsequent voter approval.  At any election held under this section, the ballot title of the proposition shall state the maximum monthly rate of the proposed tax which may be imposed by the county legislative authority.  The actual rate of tax to be imposed shall be set by ordinance, which rate shall not exceed the maximum monthly rate approved by the electors.

            "No tax may be imposed under this section for more than one year before the expected implementation date of an emergency services communication system.  The power granted under this section is in addition to any other authority which counties have to fund emergency services communication systems."

             In determining legislative intent, words used in a statute are to be given their ordinary meaning unless a contrary intent appears.  Strenge v. Clarke, 89 Wn.2d 23, 569 P.2d 60 (1977). RCW 82.14B.030 refers only to action by a "county" in imposing an excise tax.  Thus, to answer your question we must look to the ordinary meaning of the term "county."

             In Washington, incorporated cities and towns as well as unincorporated areas are clearly within, and a part of, the county in which they lie.  Therefore, unless the legislature specifically  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] provided otherwise,the term "county" would include the entire county.  Our reading of the statute reveals no language to suggest the legislature intended anything other than this plain reading.1/

             The specific legislative findings set forth in RCW 82.14B.010 refer to a "county-wide" system and vesting of taxing authority in the county (subject to voter approval) to provide financially for the system by imposing the excise tax.  While not conclusive, such a legislative statement serves as a guide in construing the statute.  Hartman v. State Game Commission, 85 Wn.2d 176, 532 P.2d 614 (1975).

             Giving the wording of the statute, and the express intention of the legislature to provide for county-wide emergency services communications systems, we conclude that RCW 82.14B.010 authorizes a county to impose the excise tax within the incorporated as well as the unincorporated sections of the county.

             We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

THOMAS R. CHAPMAN
Assistant Attorney General 

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/A review of the legislative history similarly supports this conclusion.  House Bill 484, 47th Legislature (1981); House Journal, 47th Legislature (1981), at 1049; Senate Journal, 47th Legislature (1981), at 1834.

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