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AGO 1969 No. 16 - September 22, 1969
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS - SCHOOLS - COUNTIES - INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL DISTRICTS - TRANSFER OF COUNTY FUNDS - COUNTY SUPPORT OF INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL DISTRICTS UNDER CHAPTER 176, LAWS OF 1969, EX. SESS.

(1) A board of county commissioners will be in compliance with § 18, chapter 176, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., if, during the remainder of the calendar year 1969, it pays to the intermediate school district in which it is located an amount equal to one half of the amount which the county appropriated to the budget of its county superintendent of schools for the entire year 1969.

(2) A county's payments to the intermediate school district in which it is located, as provided for in § 18, chapter 176, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., may be transmitted on a monthly basis rather than being made in the form of a single lump sum payment.

(3) A county's payments to the intermediate school district in which it is located may be made by county warrants drawn upon the county current expense fund.

(4) In making the payment from its current expense fund to the intermediate school district in which it is located, a county is not authorized to withhold from the amount to be paid a sum sufficient to pay the salary of its county superintendent of schools during the remainder of his term of office.

(5) The board of county commissioners of the county which is providing office facilities for an intermediate school district may not require the district to make payment to the county for the use of these facilities.

(6) A board of county commissioners may not charge an intermediate school district for the services rendered to the district by its county prosecutor, treasurer, or auditor.

(7) It is permissible for an intermediate school district, in accordance with its own budget, to pay one of its employees a salary in excess of the amount which was budgeted for that employee, as a county superintendent's employee, by a board of county commissioners.

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                                              September 22, 1969 [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

Honorable Robert K. Leick
Prosecuting Attorney
Skamania County Court House
Stevenson, Washington 98648

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1969 No. 16

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent request for an opinion of this office on several questions relating to the operation of intermediate school districts under the provisions of chapter 176, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess.  With your approval, we are also including our answers to certain additional questions involving the same subject, which have been submitted to us by various other prosecuting attorneys.  We have paraphrased the questions to be considered in this opinion as follows:

            (1) Will a board of county commissioners be in compliance with § 18, chapter 176, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., if, during the remainder of the calendar year 1969, it pays to the intermediate school district in which it is located an amount equal to one half of the amount which the county appropriated to the budget of its county superintendent of schools for the entire year 1969?

            (2) May a county's payments to the intermediate school district in which it is located, as provided for in § 18, chapter 176, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., be transmitted on a monthly basis rather than being made in the form of a single lump sum payment?

            (3) If question (2) is answered in the affirmative, may the payments be made by county warrants drawn upon the county current expense fund?

            (4) In making the payment from its current expense fund to the intermediate school district in which it is located, may a county withhold from the amount to be paid a sum sufficient to pay the salary of its county superintendent of schools during the remainder of his term of office?

            (5) May the board of county commissioners of the county which is providing office facilities for an intermediate school  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] district require the district to make payment to the county for the use of these facilities?

            (6) May a board of county commissioners charge an intermediate school district for the services rendered to the district by its county prosecutor, treasurer, or auditor?

            (7) Is it permissible for an intermediate school district to pay one of its employees a salary in excess of the amount which was budgeted for that employee, as a county superintendent's employee, by a board of county commissioners?

            We answer questions (1), (2), (3) and (7) in the affirmative; questions (4), (5) and (6) in the negative.  Our reasoning in support of these answers is set forth in the following analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            By its enactment of chapter 176, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., the legislature provided for the formation and operation of a state wide [[statewide]]system of intermediate school districts to replace, and perform the functions and duties of, preexisting county school superintendents and county boards of education.  Its intent and purpose in this regard are expressed in § 1 of the act as follows:

            "It shall be the intent and purpose of this 1969 amendatory act to reorganize existing offices of county superintendent of schools and county boards of education into intermediate school district offices in order that the territorial organization of the intermediate school districts may be more readily and efficiently adapted to the changing economic pattern and educational program in the state, so that the children in the state will be provided with equal educational opportunities."

            The actual transfer of functions from the old to the new agencies was provided for in § 24, as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "After they assume their duties, and except as otherwise provided in section 9 and section 11 of this 1969 amendatory act, intermediate school district boards of education shall perform all duties now required by law to be performed by the respective county boards of education, and the intermediate school district superintendents shall perform all duties now required to be performed by the respective county superintendents.  The intermediate school district board of education may provide other cooperative educational services as are required by the local school districts within the intermediate districts, being responsive to local district needs."

            These new intermediate school districts became operative on July 1, 1969.  See, § 2 of the act which mandated the state board of education to create the system of intermediate school districts, including formulation of district boundaries, by that date.  We are advised that the state board of education has now designated the boundaries of a total of fourteen intermediate school districts throughout the state and these districts encompass the territories of all thirty-nine of our counties.

            Before proceeding to express our views with respect to the several questions to be considered in this opinion, we should make note of certain basic rules of municipal law and of statutory construction which have been set forth by our supreme court and which bear on the matter.  First, a rule of municipal law regarding the relationship which exists between the state legislature and the various counties and other municipalities:  It is well settled that the legislature's authority over these municipalities is unlimited, except to the extent of limitations which may be found in the state constitution.  See,State ex rel. Board of County Commissioners v. Clausen, 95 Wash. 214, 163 Pac. 744 (1917); State ex rel. Cruikshank v. Baker, 2 Wn.2d 145, 97 P.2d 638 (1940).  In accordance with this rule, the legislature may, subject to constitutional restrictions, limit the powers of the board of county commissioners or alter them, either by  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] enlarging, curtailing, or eliminating them, as it sees fit.  See, 20 C.J.S., Counties, § 82, pp. 851-852.

            Next, a pertinent rule which our court has often expressed with respect to the construction of any legislative enactment: It is fundamental that in seeking to determine the meaning of a statute, consideration should be given to the purposes and objects sought to be accomplished by the enactment.  See,State ex rel. State Ret. Bd. v. Yelle, 31 Wn.2d 87, 195 P.2d 646 (1948), and authorities cited therein.  Furthermore, the act under consideration should be construed as a whole in order to ascertain legislative purpose and to avoid unlikely, strained or absurd consequences which would result from a literal reading, and in this connection, the spirit or purpose of legislation should prevail over its express but inept language.  Alderwood Water Dist. v. Pope & Talbot, 62 Wn.2d 319, 382 P.2d 639 (1963).

            Lastly, and most importantly, it is a well-established rule of statutory construction that each word and phrase in a statute must be given meaning and effect, if possible.  Chelan County v. Fellers, 65 Wn.2d 943, 400 P.2d 609 (1965), and cases cited therein.  In other words, a statute should be construed so that no clause, sentence or word therein shall be superfluous, void or insignificant.  Kasper v. Edmonds, 69 Wn.2d 799, 420 P.2d 346 (1966).

            With these preliminary observations in mind, we turn now to the questions to be considered.

            Questions (1) (4):

            These four questions all deal with the payments to be made by the various counties to the new intermediate school districts under § 18, chapter 176, Laws of 1969, Ex. Sess., which reads as follows:

            "The county commissioners of each county shall pay each year from their county current expense fund to the intermediate school district current expense fund of the intermediate school district in which the county is located not less than the amount which the county appropriated to the budget of any county and/or intermediate district superintendent for the year 1969.  Where only a portion of a county is  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] a part of an intermediate school district, the amount to be paid by the county commissioners to the intermediate school district shall be based on an amount not less than that appropriated to the budget of the county or intermediate district superintendent for the year 1969 and determined by a ratio as described in section 16 (1) of this 1969 amendatory act."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Your first question is whether a board of county commissioners will be in compliance with this section if, during the remainder of the calendar year 1969, it pays to the intermediate school district in which the county is located an amount equal to one half of the amount which the county appropriated to the budget of its county superintendent of schools for the year 1969.  Relying on the rules of statutory construction which we have heretofore noted, we answer this question in the affirmative.

            The apparent purpose of § 18, supra, was to provide that each of the new intermediate districts was to receive from its component counties, for each year of the district's operations, a sum of money at least equal to the amount which each of the counties budgeted for its county superintendent for the calendar year 1969.  This will most certainly be accomplished through the operation of this section in future years; however, because of the statutory date of July 1, 1969, for commencement of the operation of new intermediate school districts, an absurd result, in conflict with the apparent legislative purpose, would be reached if § 18 were construed to require each of the counties to pay to the intermediate school district in which it is located, for the remainder of the calendar year 1969, the total amount which it budgeted for its county superintendent for all of 1969.  Obviously, substantial portions of these budgeted funds had already been expended by the various counties during the first six months of 1969, before the new intermediate school districts became operative.

            Accordingly, it is our considered opinion that a board of county commissioners will be in compliance with § 18, if, during the remainder of the calendar year 1969, it pays to the intermediate school district in which the county is located, an amount equal to one half of the amount which the county appropriated to the budget of its county superintendent for the year 1969.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            In so far as the method of payment (the subject of your second question) is concerned, it will be noted that § 18, supra, is silent as to the time of payment of the funds in question; however, consistent with the legislative purpose, payment must be made on a basis sufficient to provide funds for the operation of the newly formed intermediate districts, as those funds are needed.  With this in mind, and in the absence of any specific requirement for lump sum payments, it is our opinion that the obligation of a board of county commissioners will be met if it makes payment on a regular, periodic (e.g., monthly) basis.

            With respect to your third question inquiring as to the mechanical procedures to be used in making payment, the critical point to be noted is that the new intermediate school districts are separate legal entities and not merely agencies of their component counties.  See, e.g., § 22 of the act, which contains provisions for the transfer of employees from the old county or intermediate district superintendent's office to the new intermediate school districts.  From this it follows that payment by a county to an intermediate district should be made in the same manner as any county payment to an "outside" payee is accomplished.  The governing statute, here, is RCW 36.22.050, which provides, in part, as follows:

            "For claims allowed by the county commissioners, . . . he [the auditor] shall draw a warrant on the county treasurer, made payable to the claimant or his order, . . ."

            See, also, RCW 36.29.010, relating to the duties of a county treasurer, which provides, in part, that:

            "The county treasurer:

            "(1) Shall receive all money due the county and disburse it on warrants issued and attested by the county auditor;"

            Thus, we conclude that payment by the board of county commissioners to an intermediate school district, under § 18,  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] supra, may be accomplished through the issuance of a county warrant payable to the order of the intermediate district, encompassing the sum to be transferred by the particular instrument.1/

             Question (4), the final question pertaining to the payments to be made under § 18, supra, asks whether a county, in calculating the amounts to be paid to the intermediate school district within which it is contained, may withhold from such funds an amount sufficient to pay the salary of its existing county superintendent of schools during the remainder of his term of office.  This question arises by reason of the requirement which the legislature imposed upon the various counties, by § 7 of the act, to continue to pay the salaries of their existing county superintendents until the end of their current terms of office.  This section reads, in part, as follows:

            ". . . All existing county and intermediate district superintendents shall continue in office until the end of their respective terms of office.  While holding such positions the existing superintendents shall continue to receive the salary of that office paid by the board of county commissioners . . ."

            However, while imposing this requirement on the respective counties, the legislature made no provision in the act for any withholding of funds by the counties from the intermediate school districts for payment of these salaries.  Hence, there is no authority in the act for the withholding of such funds by the county commissioners.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 9]]

            Question (5):

            Section 12 of the act states that:

            "The intermediate school district board of education shall designate the headquarter's office of the intermediate school district.  The board of county commissioners in each county shall provide the intermediate school district superintendent with suitable quarters and office. . . ."

            Your question is whether a county, in exchange for providing these facilities, may charge the intermediate school district for their use.  We answer this question in the negative, based upon the general rule that a municipality or other governmental unit, through its officers, has no right to compensation or reimbursement for legally required services rendered unless it can point to a particular statute authorizing it to impose and collect charges for the service in question.  See, 67 C.J.S., Officers, § 90, p. 328; also, AGO 59-60 No. 44, and authorities cited therein.2/

             Question (6):

            The next question to be considered is similarly answered.  Sections 17, 20 and 21 of the act require, respectively, that the county auditor, prosecuting attorney and county treasurer of the county wherein the intermediate school district headquarters is located render specified services for the intermediate district.  However, no provision is made in any of these sections for any payments by the intermediate district to the county in return for these services.  Accordingly, consistent with the rule applied and considered in question (5),supra, we conclude that a board of county commissioners may not charge the intermediate school district in which their county is located for the services rendered to the district by the county auditor, treasurer or prosecuting attorney.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 10]]

            Question (7):

            The final question to be considered in this opinion is whether it is permissible for an intermediate school district to pay one of its employees a salary in excess of the amount which was budgeted for that employee, as a county superintendent's employee, by a board of county commissioners.  In posing this question, you have given us the following example:

            ". . . If the County Superintendent had budgeted $5,000.00 as his secretary's salary and his secretary became the employee of the new intermediate school district, can that intermediate school district now raise the secretary's pay to $5,500.00 prior to the submission of a new budget?"

            We have already noted that the new intermediate school districts are to be regarded as legal entities separate and apart from their component counties.  Nothing contained in the act purports to limit the expenditures of an intermediate school district to those amounts which were set forth in the budget of a prior county superintendent's office.

            Accordingly, as soon as the governing body of an intermediate school district has prepared its own budget, it may establish salary levels for its employees consistent therewith without regard to such limitations on salaries as may have been set forth in a previous county budget.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

RICHARD M. MONTECUCCO
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/With respect to the expenditure of funds by the intermediate school districts, !- 21 of the act provides that the county treasurer of the county in which the headquarter's office of the district is located shall serve as the ex officio treasurer of the district.  Sections 14 and 17 further provide that funds of the intermediate district shall be expended by warrants drawn by the county auditor of the headquarter's county of the intermediate district upon vouchers approved by the intermediate district.

2/In the cited opinion, this office concluded that King county could not legally compel the port of Seattle to defray the administrative costs of refunding taxes illegally assessed and collected for the Duwamish industrial survey, in the absence of a statute specifically authorizing the county to impose charges for such costs on the port district.

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