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AGO 1959 No. 22 - March 10, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


In budgets adopted by cities of less than 300,000 population, transfers may not be made between items even where the items are within the same classification of the same fund, where they are in separate appropriations made for different departments of the city.

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                                                                  March 10, 1959

Honorable Cliff Yelle
State Auditor
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                             Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 22

Attention:  !ttMr. A. E. Hankins            Chief Examiner

Dear Sir:

            By letter dated January 6, 1959, you have requested the opinion of this office on two questions, as follows:

            1.  Under RCW 35.33.120 may transfers be made between items within the same classification of the same fund, even though the items are in separate appropriations, by means of a resolution of the City Commission?

            2.  If the answer to question 1 is "Yes," may the resolution be adopted by a majority vote of the commission or would it require the vote of one more than the majority of all members of the commission?

            We answer your first question in the negative, thus disposing of the necessity of answering your second question.  Your first question arises out of the following situation: In the 1958 budget the appropriations for both the police department and the city treasurer's office were within the current expense fund.  A resolution was adopted by the city commission  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] transferring the sum of $1,500 from the "First Class Patrolman" item of the salaries classification of the police department appropriation to the "Extra and Vacation" item of the salaries classification of the city treasurer's appropriation.


            RCW 35.33.120 (1955 Supp.) provides as follows:

            "The expenditures as classified and itemized in the final budget shall constitute the city's appropriations for the ensuing fiscal year.  Every officer and employee of the city shall be limited in the making of expenditures and incurring of liabilities to the amounts of the detailed appropriation items or classes.  Transfers between the general classes and expenditures from funds received in excess of estimated revenues shall be permitted when authorized by ordinance upon the vote of one more than the majority of all members of the legislative body of any city:  Provided, That the legislative body shall at all times have the power by ordinance with like vote to revoke, recall, or decrease the whole or any part of an unexpended item listed in the budget appropriation ordinance for salaries and wages, maintenance and operation, or capital outlay, for said yearand also to make transfers by resolution between items within any class in the budget, but no salary shall be increased above the amount provided therefor in the budget:  Provided, That the legislative body in passing said ordinance shall state therein the reason for such transfer of funds or the revoking, recall, or decrease, in whole or in part, of any unexpended item as above provided, and shall further in said ordinance find that it is to the best interest of the municipality that such transfer or revocation, recall, or decrease of any unexpended item listed in the budget appropriation be made.

            "Liabilities incurred by any officer or employee of the city in excess of any budget appropriation shall not be a liability of the city.  The clerk shall issue no warrant and the city commission, council or mayor shall approve no claim for an expenditure in excess of any individual budget appropriation except  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] upon an order of a court of competent jurisdiction or for emergencies as provided in this chapter."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            This statute under certain conditions authorizes transfers between general classes and transfers between items within a class.  It does not authorize transfers between appropriations made for different departments of the city.  Rather, in our opinion, such transfers are clearly prohibited by RCW 43.09.210, which must be read together with RCW 35.33.120.  RCW 43.09.210 provides as follows:

            "Separate accounts shall be kept for every appropriation or fund of a taxing or legislative body showing date and manner of each payment made therefrom, the name, address, and vocation of each person, organization, corporation, or association to whom paid, and for what purpose paid.

            "Separate accounts shall be kept for each department, public improvement, undertaking, institution, and public service industry under the jurisdiction of every taxing body.

            "All service rendered by, or property transferred from, one department, public improvement, undertaking, institution, or public service industry to another, shall be paid for at its true and full value by the department, public improvement undertaking, institution, or public service industry receiving the same, andno department, public improvement, undertaking, institution, or public service industryshall benefit in any financial manner whatever by an appropriation or fund made for the support of another.

            "All unexpended balances of appropriations shall be transferred to the fund from which appropriated, whenever the account with an appropriation is closed."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            This statute makes no distinction whatever between departments operating under separate funds, and departments operating under one municipal fund.  It expressly prohibits the use for any department of afund or appropriation made for another.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            In keeping with this statute, budgets in all cities and towns are made up by office, department, division, service, or institution.  Chapter 35.32 RCW; RCW 35.33.050,et seq.  Appropriations are made to each department by specific ordinance, in cities of over 300,000 population, and by adoption of the final budget in others.  RCW 35.32.140; RCW 35.33.120, supra.

            As in the fact situation presented in your question, appropriations for each department are divided into the classifications prescribed by RCW 35.33.040 (1953 Supp.).  It is these classifications, and items of expenditure within these classifications, between which transfers may be made.  In our opinion, none of the statutes relating to budgets in cities of less than 300,000 population authorize transfers between departments, contrary to RCW 43.09.210,supra.

            Our disposition of the first question makes it unnecessary to consider the second.

            We trust that this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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