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AGO 1965 No. 61 - December 21, 1965
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


COUNTIES ‑ BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS ‑ COUNTY ROAD FUND ‑ BUILDING FOR ROAD EQUIPMENT AND OFFICE OF COUNTY ENGINEER.

The board of county commissioners may expend county road funds to construct a separate building on courthouse grounds for housing county road equipment and to provide office space for the county engineer.

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                                                               December 21, 1965

Honorable Sid Buckley
Prosecuting Attorney
Stevens County
Colville, Washington 99114

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 61

Dear Sir:

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

            May the board of county commissioners expend county road funds to construct a separate building on courthouse grounds for the housing of county road equipment and to provide office space for the county engineer?

            We answer your question in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Boards of county commissioners have only such powers as have been granted to them expressly or by implication by the constitution or statutes of the state.  Sasse v. King County, 196 Wash. 242, 82 P.2d 536 (1938).

            Some general powers of the county commissioners, with regard to the administration of county roads, are expressed in RCW 36.75.040, providing in pertinent part as follows:

            "Powers of county commissioners.  The board of county commissioners of each county, in relation to roads and bridges, shall have the power and it shall be its duty to:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "(1) Acquire in the manner provided by law property real and personal and acquire or erect structures necessary for the administration of the county roads of such county;

            "(3) Maintain a county engineering office and keep record of all proceedings and orders pertaining to the county roads of such county; . . .

            "(4) Perform all acts necessary and proper for the administration of the county roads of such county as by law provided."

            Additionally, RCW 36.80.015 provides in pertinent part:

            "The county road engineer shall keep his office at the county seat in such room or rooms as are provided by the county, and he shall be furnished with all necessary cases and other suitable articles, and also with all blank books and blanks necessary to the proper discharge of his official duties . . ."

            Under these statutes there can be little doubt as to the duty of the board of county commissioners to provide the housing and office space in question.  However, our search discloses no statutory language expressly directing out of which fund the specific expenditures in question should be made.

            It is the general rule that ordinary expenses of county government are to be paid out of the county's current expense fund (sometimes called general fund) unless other provision is made by the legislature.  See, AGO 63-64 No. 76 [[to C. W. "Red" Beck, State Representative on December 19, 1963]], a copy of which is enclosed, and other authorities cited therein.

            With specific reference to the manner in which county road funds may be expended, RCW 36.82.070 provides in pertinent part as follows:

            "Purpose for which road fund can be used.  Any money paid to any county from the motor vehicle fund may be used for the construction, alteration, repair, improvement or maintenance of county roads and bridges thereon and for wharves necessary for ferriage of motor vehicle traffic, and for ferries, andfor the acquiring, operating,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] and maintaining of machinery, equipment, quarries, or pits for the extraction of materials, and for the cost of establishing county roads, acquiring rights of way therefor, and expenses for the operation of the county engineering office, and for any other proper county road purpose.  Such expenditure may be made either independently or in conjunction with the state or any city, town, or tax district within the county."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Essentially our problem is one of statutory construction.  As in all such problems, the question is one of legislative intent.  Cory v. Nethery, 19 Wn.2d 326, 142 P.2d 488 (1943).

            It is evident that the legislature, in enacting RCW 36.82.070,supra, had a broad general intent and that the words used by the legislature were intended in their broadest sense.  See, State ex rel. King Co. v. Murrow, 199 Wash. 685, 93 P.2d 304 (1939).

            Our review of these and other statutes relating to the administration of county roads convinces us that each of the purposes outlined in your question constitutes a proper expenditure from the county road fund.  The housing of county road equipment is clearly an expenditure for the ". . . maintaining of machinery, equipment, . . ." within the meaning of RCW 36.82.070.  See, also,State ex rel. King Co. v. Murrow, supra.  This, coupled with the broad phrase "and for any other proper county road purpose," found in the same statute leaves little room for doubt on the question.  Finally, RCW 36.75.040 (1), cited and quoted at the outset of this opinion, expressly authorizes the building of structures "necessary for the administration of the county roads," evidencing further the legislative intent that the erection of such structures is a "county road purpose."

            We must next consider whether county road funds may be expended to provide office space for the county engineer in this manner.  Again reviewing the statutes, it appears that all, or substantially all, of the function of the county engineer's office relates to the administration of the county roads.  Subdivision (2) of RCW 36.75.040 expressly requires the board of county commissioners to "maintain a county engineering office and keep record of all proceedings and orders pertaining to the county roads of such county; . . ."  RCW 36.75.050 further provides as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "The powers and duties vested in or imposed upon the boards with respect to establishing, examining, surveying, constructing, altering, repairing, improving, and maintaining county roads, shall be exercised under the supervision and direction of the county road engineer.

            "The board shall by resolution, and not otherwise, order the survey, establishment, construction, alteration, or improvement of county roads;the county road engineer shall prepare all necessary maps, plans, and specifications therefor, showing the right of way widths, the alignments, gradients, and standards of construction."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            And additionally, RCW 36.80.060 provides in pertinent part as follows:

            "Engineer to maintain record of road equipment, rentals, etc.  The county road engineer shall maintain in his office complete and accurate records of all expenditures for (1) overhead and operations, (2) bond and warrant retirement, (3) maintenance, (4) construction, and (5) purchase of road equipment, and shall maintain a true and complete inventory of all road equipment."

            Finally, RCW 36.80.070 provides as follows:

            "All road construction work, except minor construction work, which by its nature does not require plans and specifications, whether performed pursuant to contract or by day labor, shall be in accordance with plans and specifications prepared therefor by or under direct supervision of the county road engineer.  All maintenance work on county roads shall be performed under supervision of the county road engineer."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            From these statutes we conclude that it is the duty of the board of county commissioners to provide office space for the county road engineer, and that the cost thereof is properly a charge upon the county road fund under RCW 36.82.070,supra.  In two previous opinions of this office we have concluded that county road funds were properly used for similar expenses in connection with the operation of the county engineer's  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] office.  See our opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Skamania county, November 2, 1959, and opinion to the prosecuting attorney of Island county, dated June 19, 1963, copies of both of which (informal) are enclosed for your reference.  In both opinions we concluded that the board of county commissioners could rent office space for the county engineer in a building "owned" by the current expense fund, and charge the rent to the county road fund.  In each case the opinion was based upon the broad language of RCW 36.82.070,supra.  We see no difference under that language between renting space in one building, or constructing it separately.  The above statutes with reference to the functions of the county engineer, and RCW 36.82.070,supra, relating to the purpose of the county road fund, should be read together in construing the legislative intent.  State ex rel. American Piano Co. v. Supr. Ct., 105 Wash. 676, 178 Pac. 827 (1919).  Furthermore, the legislative intent must be determined with reference to the rule that words in a statute are to be taken as understood in their ordinary and popular sense, in the absence of anything in the context to the contrary.  Featherstone v. Dessert, 173 Wash. 264, 22 P.2d 1050 (1933).  In the light of these considerations, we conclude that the phrase "expenses for the operation of the county engineering office" followed immediately by the phrase "and for any other proper county road purpose" should be taken in its broadest sense, and in such sense it includes construction of necessary facilities, as well as rental.  See,State ex rel. King Co. v. Murrow, supra, page 692, and cases cited therein.

            In summary, it is our opinion that the construction of a building for the purposes in question would constitute a proper expenditure of the county road fund.  Of course, this opinion assumes that suitable provision will have been made with the current expense fund for use of the necessary ground space for such a building.

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

JOSEPH B. LOONAM
Assistant Attorney General

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