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AGO 1965 No. 59 - December 17, 1965
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


FUNDS ‑- FEDERAL FOREST RESERVE ‑- COUNTY COMMISSIONERS ‑- DIVISION BETWEEN PUBLIC SCHOOL AND COUNTY ROADS ‑- METHODS OF APPORTIONMENT ‑- USE OF FUNDS.

(1) Under § 1, chapter 240, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess. (RCW 36.33.110), the board of county commissioners is required to expend at least fifty percent of federal forest funds received by the county for the benefit of the pubblic schools.  Since the legislature has not prescribed the manner of apportioning the money, the board of county commissioners may, in the exercise of its sound discretion, make any apportionment it desires as long as the money is used for the benefit of the public schoolsincluding but not limited to division of the funds either (1) among the school districts of the county to be expended as the boards of directors thereof may direct, or (2) among the school districts of the county to be expended in the manner directed by the board of county commissioners.

(2) An expenditure by the county for removal of snow and bridge repair on county roads, which incidentally benefits the schools, cannot be charged to that portion of the federal forest funds which must be expended for the public schools.

(3) The county commissioners acting pursuant to § 1, chapter 140, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., may not allot federal forest funds to the county superintendent's budget.

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                                                               December 17, 1965

Honorable Richard A. Nelle
Prosecuting Attorney
Whatcom County Court House
Bellingham, Washington 98225

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 59

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on three questions relating to the expenditure of federal forest funds.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            (1) May the board of county commissioners, acting pursuant to § 1, chapter 140, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess. (RCW 36.33.110), divide federal forest funds either (1) among the school districts of the county to be expended as the boards of directors thereof may direct, or (2) among the school districts  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of the county to be expended in the manner directed by the board of county commissioners?

            (2) May an expenditure by the county for removal of snow and bridge repair on county roads, which incidentally benefits the schools, be charged to that portion of the federal forest funds which must be expended for the public schools?

            (3) May the county commissioners acting pursuant to § 1, chapter 140, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., allot federal forest funds to the county superintendent's budget?

            We answer your questions as explained in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The history of both federal and state laws governing the use and distribution of federal forest reserve payments is discussed in AGO 59-60 No. 86 [[to Lloyd Andrews, State Superintendent of Public Instruction on November 20, 1959]], a copy of which is enclosed for your information.

            Under the law in effect at the time that opinion was written, there was no requirement that any certain percentage of federal forest funds be used for the benefit of the public schools.  However, the legislature at its last session passed chapter 140, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess. (RCW 36.33.110), which reads as follows:

            "The state treasurer shall turn over to the treasurers of the counties within United States forest reserves, the amount of money belonging to them, received from the federal government from such reserves, in accordance with Title 16, section 500, United States Code.  Where the reserve is situated in more than one county the money shall be distributed in proportion to the area of the counties interested, and to that end the state treasurer is authorized and required to obtain the necessary information to enable him to make the distribution on such basis.

            "County commissioners of the respective counties to which the money is distributed are authorized and directed to expend not less than fifty percent of said money for the benefit of the public schools, including school maintenance and building purposes, and ((public roads thereof,)) to  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] expend the balance of said money for the benefit of the public roads of such county, and not otherwise."

            The underscored language was added to the existing statute by the 1965 legislature.  The intent of the legislature in passing this amendatory legislation is quite obvious; it sought to guarantee that at least fifty percent of the federal forest payments would be expended for the benefit of the public schools of the county.

            While the law governing disposition of federal forest money has been twice amended since it was enacted in 1907,1/ the portion thereof that the county commissioners are "authorized and directed to expend" has remained unchanged.

            In AGO 59-60 No. 86 we stated that the board of county commissioners could comply with the provisions of the act by (1) directly allocating the funds to the school districts in the county to use as the districts might direct, or (2) specifying the amount available to schools (now at least fifty percent of the federal forest funds received) and providing specifically the manner in which such funds were to be used.

            The conclusions stated in AGO 59-60 No. 86 were based upon several earlier opinions rendered by our office.  We have been advised that as a matter of administrative practice, when federal forest funds are received by a county, the county commissioners budget the funds which are allotted to the county roads andby resolution direct the treasurer to allot the funds available for the "benefit of the public schools" on the basis of specific instructions in the resolution.  Such administrative practice, continuing over a number of years and based, in effect, on opinions of this office, is entitled to great weight in determining the intent of the legislature, particularly where the legislature has amended the statute in some particular without repudiating the administrative construction.  Bradley v. Dept. of Labor & Industries, 52 Wn.2d 780, 329 P.2d 196 (1958), and cases  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] cited therein.

            Additionally it is quite clear that the statute makes no provision for the manner of apportionment (other than the new fifty percent requirement) and therefore, nothing else appearing to the contrary, the manner of apportionment, as long as the money is for school purposes, is left to the sound discretion of the county commissioners.2/

             Accordingly, it is our opinion that under § 1, chapter 240, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess. (RCW 36.33.110), the board of county commissioners is required to expend at least fifty percent of federal forest funds received by the county for the benefit of the public schools and since the legislature has not prescribed the manner of apportioning the money, the board of county commissioners may, in the exercise of its sound discretion, make any apportionment it desires as long as the money is used for the benefit of the public schools including but not limited to division of the funds either (1) among the school districts of the county to be expended as the boards of directors thereof may direct, or (2) among the school districts of the county to be expended in the manner directed by the board of county commissioners.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            For ease in reading we restate your second question:

            "May an expenditure by the county for removal of snow and bridge repair on county roads, which incidentally benefits the schools, be charged to that portion of the federal forest funds which must be expended for the public schools?"

            Section 1,chapter 140, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess. (RCW 36.33.110),supra, provides in pertinent part as follows:

            "County commissioners of the respective counties to which the money is distributed are authorized and directed to expend not less than fifty percent of said money for the benefit of the public schools, including school maintenance and building purposes, and to expend the balance of said money for the benefit of the public roads of such county, and not otherwise."

            In so far as the division of the funds is concerned, the language of the statute is plain, clear and unambiguous and furnishes a rule beyond which a court cannot go.  Seattle v. Ross, 54 Wn.2d 655, 344 P.2d 216 (1959).  Thus,at least fifty percent of the federal forest funds must be expended for the public schools, and the remainder must be expended for the public roads.

            It is an oft-quoted and fundamental rule of statutory construction that the courts, in construing a statute, must ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature, the first resort being to the context and subject matter of the statute.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn.2d 390, 191 P.2d 858 (1948), and Behrens v. Commercial Waterway Dist. No. 1, 107 Wash. 155, 181 Pac. 892, 185 Pac. 628 (1919).

            Giving the words used their ordinary meaning, and viewed in the context of the statute, it is quite obvious that the legislature intended that the cost incidental to the removal of snow from a county road or the repairs of a county bridge must be charged to and borne by that portion of the federal forest funds budgeted for the benefit of the public roads of the county.  Not only are public roads and public schools mutually exclusive by their very nature,  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] but it is obvious that the incidental benefit which all property owners in an area may receive by virtue of the county maintaining its roads is not the type of public school benefit contemplated by § 1, chapter 140, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess.,supra.

            In our opinion, in order to constitute a benefit to the public schools, an expenditure of federal forest funds must be limited to those purposes for which school district funds may be lawfully budgeted and expended by a district.

            Your third question relating to the use of federal forest funds by the county superintendent was previously considered by this office in AGO 59-60 No. 102.  Therein we stated:

            "Accordingly, it is our opinion that the legislature has not expressly or by necessary implication authorized the use of federal forest reserve funds for the county superintendent's budgets. . . ."

            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

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Section 1, chapter 131, Laws of 1919, amended the statute to authorize the use of such funds for school buildings as well as maintenance.  Section 1, chapter 140, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess., is the last amendment and is the subject of this opinion.

2/In AGO 59-60 No. 86 we said:

            ". . . In this connection it should be noted that in a memorandum opinion the Superior Court of Mason county in the case ofSchool District No. 10 v. S.E. Smith, Treasurer of Mason County et al, No. 5551, the court, in discussing the above statute, stated:

            "'The statute involved in this litigation is plain and requires no construction.  If the Legislature had desired to require any particular method of apportionment, it could have done so either at the time of the original passage of the act, or in 1949 when the original act as amended [or in 1965 when it was again amended].

            "'The county commissioners clearly have the right not only to make any allocation they desire, as between roads and schools, but also to use the school money in any way they see fit, as long as it is used for school purposes.'  (Emphasis supplied)" (Double emphasis supplied.)

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