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AGO 1964 No. 125 - October 21, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


The board of county commissioners may not require all capital outlay for the various county offices to be budgeted under one capital outlay category in the board of county commissioners' budget.

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                                                                October 21, 1964

Honorable Alf M. Jacobsen
Prosecuting Attorney
Klickitat County
Goldendale, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 125

Dear Sir:

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

            May the board of county commissioners of a fifth class county budget all capital outlay for the various county offices under one capital outlay category in the board of county commissioners' budget?

            We answer your question in the negative.


            By way of clarification, you have pointed out that the county commissioners have adopted a current procedure whereby no county official is separately permitted to have in his budget any items for capital outlay.  Instead, as a practical matter, the requests made by the various county officials are being lumped under one budget heading of capital outlay for the entire county without being separately stated.  In our opinion, this constitutes a direct violation of the budget law.

            RCW 36.40.010 provides as follows:

            "On or before the second Monday in July of each year the county auditor shall notify in writing each county official, elective or appointive, in charge of an office, department, service, or institution of the county, to file with him on or before the second Monday in August  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] thereafter detailed and itemized estimates, both of the probable revenues from sources other than taxation, and ofall expenditures required by such office, department, service, or institution for the ensuing fiscal year."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            RCW 36.40.030 provides in pertinent part as follows:

            "The estimates required in RCW 36.40.010 and 36.40.020 shall be submitted on forms provided by the auditor and classified according to the classification established by the division of municipal corporations.  The auditor shall provide such forms. . . ."

            RCW 36.40.040 next requires the preparation of a budget by the county auditor, based upon the estimates submitted by the various department heads.  The statute then provides in pertinent part:

            "The expenditure section shall set forth in comparative and tabular form by offices, departments, services, and institutions the estimated expenditures for the ensuing fiscal year, the appropriations for the current fiscal year, the actual expenditures for the first six months of the current fiscal year including all contracts or other obligations against current appropriations, and the actual expenditures for the last completed fiscal year.

            "Such estimates, appropriations, and expenditures shall be classified under the general classes of (1) salaries and wages (2) maintenance and operation (3) capital outlay (4) interest and debt redemption, and (5) expenditures proposed to be made from bond or warrant issues not yet authorized."

            The county auditor submits the preliminary budget to the  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] county commissioners for consideration and for whatever adjustment may be necessary.  A hearing is then held and the board of county commissioners determines each item of the budget separately and adopts the final budget.  See, RCW 36.40.050.  Emphasizing the need for proper classification, RCW 36.40.100 provides in pertinent part that:

            "The estimates of expenditures itemized and classified as required in RCW 36.40.040 and as finally fixed and adopted in detail by the board of county commissioners shall constitute the appropriations for the county for the ensuing fiscal year; and the county commissioners and every other county official shall be limited in the making of expenditures or the incurring of liabilities to the amount of such detailed appropriation items or classes respectively; . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The powers and duties of county commissioners with respect to the management of county affairs is strictly statutory, and where a duty is placed upon county officials, along with a statutory direction as to how those duties are to be performed, no other means of performance can be implied.  See,State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, 2 Wn. (2d) 575, 98 P. (2d) 985 (1940); alsoPacific First Federal Savings & Loan Association v. Pierce County, 27 Wn. (2d) 347, 178 P. (2d) 351 (1947), and State ex rel. Eastvold v. Maybury, 49 Wn. (2d) 533, 304 P. (2d) 663 (1956).

            These statutes plainly and unambiguously provide for classificationby department and office, and "capital outlay" is a necessary classification in the budget of each such department and office.  This necessity exists in fact as well as in statutory language.  Normally in the absence of some special statutory provision, it is the duty of the various county officers rather than the board of county commissioners to purchase supplies and materials for their respective departments and offices.  State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, supra.

            Your letter indicates that the county commissioners have not established a purchasing department.  RCW 36.32.240 provides as follows:

            "In any county the board of county commissioners may by resolution establish  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] a county purchasing department and thereafter such department shall contract on a competitive basis for all public works and purchase on a competitive basis all supplies, materials, and equipment, for all departments of the county, exclusive of the county hospital, pursuant to the provisions hereof and under such rules as the board shall by resolution adopt, except for such contracts and purchases as shall be made pursuant to RCW 36.77.060, 36.77.070 and 36.82.130:  Provided, That in all class AA or class A counties or in any county of the first class it shall be mandatory that a purchasing department be established."

            RCW 36.32.260 provides:

            "In any county having a purchasing department the board of county commissioners shall appoint a county purchasing agent, who shall be the head of such purchasing department.  The county purchasing agent shall have had previous purchasing experience as purchasing agent of a commercial, industrial, institutional, or governmental plant or agency, and shall be placed under such bond as the board may require.  The board may establish a central storeroom or storerooms in charge of the county purchasing agent in which supplies and equipment may be stored and issued upon proper requisition by department heads.  The purchasing agent shall be responsible for maintaining perpetual inventories of supplies and equipment and shall at least yearly, or oftener when so required by the board, report to the county commissioners a balancing of the inventory record with the actual amount of supplies or equipment on hand."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            However, even if a county establishes a purchasing department, these statutes would not substantially affect normal budget procedures because the purchasing department is merely a service agency for the various departments.  There is no inconsistency between these statutes and the budget laws, chapter 36.40 RCW; therefore, they should be read together.  See,Lindsey v. Superior Court, 33 Wn. (2d) 94, 204 P. (2d) 482 (1949).  Incidentally, we are informed by the division of municipal corporations that current budget practices even in large counties with established purchasing departments include capital outlay as an item in each departmental budget.

            It is our conclusion therefore that capital outlay items for all county offices must be provided for separately in the portions of the budget applicable to those offices.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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