Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1995 No. 7 - May 19, 1995
AGO Opinion Header Image
Christine Gregoire | 1993-2004 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS - PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICTS - COMMISSIONERS - DISTRICTS - SALARIES AND WAGES - COMPENSATION - Authority of public utility district commissioners to receive additional compensation for service as president or secretary of the board of commissioners.

A public utility district commissioner is entitled to receive only the compensation specified for the position in RCW 54.12.080, and is not entitled to any additional compensation for serving as president or secretary of the board of commissioners.

                                                 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

                                                                   May 19, 1995

HonorableHarold Hochstatter
State Senator, District 13
P.O. Box 40462
Olympia, WA  98504-0413

                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 1995 No. 7

Dear Senator Hochstatter:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you requested our opinion on the following paraphrased question:

            May a public utility district commissioner receive a salary pursuant to RCW 54.12.090 for serving as commission president or secretary, which salary is in addition to, or in lieu of, the salary and compensation specifically set forth in RCW 54.12.080?

                                                               BRIEF ANSWER

            The answer to your question is no.  RCW 54.12.080 sets forth the salary and compensation scheme for public utility district commissioners, including those who simultaneously serve as commission president or secretary.

                                                                    ANALYSIS

            The Legislature has set forth the salary and compensation for public utility district commissioners in RCW 54.12.080.  That statute provides in part:

                        (1)        Each public utility district commissioner of a district operating utility properties shall receive a salary during a calendar year which shall depend upon the total gross revenue of the district from its distribution system and its generating system, if any, for the fiscal year ending June 30th prior to such calendar year, based upon the following schedule:

                                        REVENUE                              SALARY

                                    OVER $15 million                                $500 per month

                                    $2 to 15 million                         $350 per month

                        Commissioners of other districts shall serve without salary unless the district provides by resolution for the payment thereof, which however shall not exceed two hundred dollars per month for each commissioner.  In addition to salary, all districts may provide by resolution for the payment of per diem compensation to each commissioner at a rate not exceeding fifty dollars for each day or major part thereof devoted to the business of the district, and days upon which he attends meetings of the commission of his district or meetings attended by one or more commissioners of two or more districts called to consider business common to them, but such compensation paid during any one year to a commissioner shall not exceed seven thousand dollars.  Per diem compensation shall not be paid for services of a ministerial or professional nature.

                       . . .

                        (3)        Each district commissioner shall be reimbursed for reasonable expenses actually incurred in connection with such business and meetings, including his subsistence and lodging and travel while away from his place of residence.

                        (4)        Any district providing group insurance for its employees, covering them, their immediate family and dependents, may provide insurance for its commissioners with the same coverage.

            Your question is whether this salary and compensation scheme for public utility district commissioners is affected by RCW 54.12.090, particularly as applied to a commissioner who is simultaneously serving as the commission president or secretary.  RCW 54.12.090 provides:

                        The commission shall elect from its members, a president and secretary, and shall, by resolution, adopt rules governing the transaction of district business, and adopt an official seal.  All proceedings of the commission shall be by motion or resolution, recorded in its minute books, which shall be public records.

                        A majority of the members shall constitute a quorum of the commission for the transaction of business.  The concurrence of a majority of the whole commission in office at the time shall be necessary for the passage of any resolution, and no business shall be transacted, except in usual and ordinary course, unless there are in office at least a majority of the full number of commissioners as fixed by law.

                        The commission may create and fill such positions and fix salaries and bonds thereof as it may provide by resolution.

(Emphasis added.)

            To resolve this issue, we apply familiar rules of statutory construction.  First, statutory language will be given its plain meaning.  Higgins v. Stafford, 123 Wn.2d 160, 165, 866 P.2d 31 (1994).  Second, statutes must be read together to determine legislative purpose, to achieve a harmonious total statutory scheme which maintains the integrity of the respective statutes.  One statute should not be read so as to render another pertinent statute superfluous.  Ellensburg v. State, 118 Wn.2d 709, 713-14, 826 P.2d 1081 (1992).  Finally, statutes relating to the compensation of public officers must be strictly construed in favor of the government, and such officers are entitled only to what is clearly given by law.  Murphy v. Department of Licensing, 28 Wn. App. 620, 625, 625 P.2d 732 (1981), citingFurnia v. Grays Harbor Cy., 158 Wash. 619, 621, 291 P. 1111 (1930).

            Applying these principles, we conclude that a public utility district commissioner's salary and compensation is limited to that set forth in RCW 54.12.080.  Although RCW 54.12.090 does provide for the selection of a commission president and secretary from among the commissioners, the plain language of that statute does not support any additional or alternative compensation for those positions.  To the contrary, it states only that the commission may "create and fill such positions and fix salaries . . . thereof as it may provide by resolution."

            The commission president and secretary are not positions created by resolution.  They are positions expressly created by the Legislature.  Their salary is thus not governed by RCW 54.12.090.  That statute, rather, grants public utility district commissioners the authority to createother positions as needed, and to fix the salaries of those positions.

            To read the statutes differently would make RCW 54.12.080 largely superfluous.  The Legislature has implemented a detailed salary and compensation scheme applicable to public utility district commissioners.  That scheme includes a base salary determined by the district's revenues, per diem compensation, expense reimbursement, and insurance coverage.  Yet if two of each district's commissioners were deemed entitled to augment their salary simply by virtue of simultaneously holding the position of commission president or secretary, they would effectively be freed from the salary constraints of RCW 54.12.080 altogether, since there would be no statutory limit to the additional salary they could draw for holding these latter positions.[1]  We do not believe the Legislature intended such an unlikely result.  SeeState v. Stannard, 109 Wn.2d 29, 36, 742 P.2d 1244 (1987) (statutes should be construed to avoid strained or unlikely consequences).

            Moreover, the concept of "salary" for a public officer typically does not include extra compensation for increased duties.  The state supreme court has noted, in a related context, that the "salary" to which public officers are constitutionally limited during their terms of office is dependent on time served, rather than duties performed:

            [W]e think here that the whole idea of the constitution was of compensation by salary, as distinguished from the fee system, which had theretofore prevailed, and that the word 'salary' was used in the constitution to mean a payment dependent on the time, and not upon the amount of the services rendered; or, in other words, when the salary for a year was prescribed, it was meant that the prescribed salary should be the compensation for a year.

State ex rel. Jaspers v. West, 13 Wn.2d 514, 518, 125 P.2d 694 (1942), quotingState ex rel. Stratton v. Maynard, 35 Wash. 168, 177, 76 P. 937 (1904).

            A noted treatise on municipal corporations concurs that public officers are not generally entitled to extra compensation for the performance of additional duties:

                        An officer's or employee's performance of extra duties does not entitle that officer to extra compensation.  In general, the officer is limited to the compensation fixed by law, notwithstanding that he or she is required to perform other public duties to which fees may be attached.  The principle is the same even though the officer's duties are greatly increased.  The fact that the salary or compensation may be recognized as inadequate remuneration for the services exacted and actually performed does not change the rule.

4 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, §12.193.10 (3d rev. ed. 1992) (footnotes omitted).  The fact that a commissioner may have to perform extra duties as commission president or secretary thus does not entitle the commissioner to extra pay, in the absence of specific legislation to the contrary.  Indeed, this office has previously concluded that a public utility district commissioner may not simultaneously fill a subordinate position under the manager for the district and obtain additional compensation for the services related to that position.  AGO 1937-38, at 117-19 (Jul. 12, 1937).

            The legislative history of RCW 54.12.080 and .090 provides further support for our conclusion.  These two statutes were originally part of a single legislative enactment in 1931.  That enactment provided in part:

                        The commissioners shall serve without compensation. . . . The commission shall organize by the election of its own members of a president and secretary . . . The commission shall have authority to create and fill such positions and fix salaries and bonds thereof as it may by resolution provide.

Laws of 1931, ch. 1, § 8, p. 25.  Clearly, when this original statute was enacted, commissioners could not draw a salary for serving as commission president or secretary: to do so would violate the command that they serve without compensation.  The only change since 1931 has been the adoption of a detailed, though separately codified, salary scheme for public utility district commissioners.  There is nothing to indicate a legislative intent to allow additional compensation that was previously not allowed.

            Finally, we note that the Legislature has specifically permitted the commissioners of other special purpose districts to take additional compensation for serving as district secretary.  For example, RCW 56.12.010 (pertaining to sewer districts) and 57.12.010 (pertaining to water districts) contain the following identical provisions:

                        A district shall provide by resolution for the payment of compensation to each of its commissioners at a rate of fifty dollars for each day or portion thereof devoted to the business of the district: PROVIDED, That the compensation for each commissioner shall not exceed four thousand eight hundred dollars per year.  In addition, the secretary may be paid a reasonable sum for clerical services.

(Emphasis added.)  The Legislature chose not to include such a provision in the public utility district statutes.  We must assume that this omission was intentional, and will not read into the statutes language that is not there.  SeeState v. Hastings, 115 Wn.2d 42, 50, 793 P.2d 956 (1990).  Accordingly, we conclude that a public utility district commissioner's salary and compensation is limited to that set forth in RCW 54.12.080, and answer your question in the negative.

            We trust that the foregoing will assist you.

                                                                        Very truly yours,

                                                                        CHRISTINE O. GREGOIRE
                                                                        Attorney General


                                                                        GREGORY J. TRAUTMAN
                                                                        Assistant Attorney General


    [1]Public utility districts have either three or five commissioners.  RCW 54.40.010.  If a commissioner were entitled to an indeterminate amount of extra compensation for holding the position of commission president or secretary, either 67 percent or 40 percent of the commissioners (depending upon the district) would effectively have no salary constraints at all.

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo