Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 440 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


County commissioners of counties of the third class may purchase lumber and road building material and employ operator of a rock crusher without calling for bids.

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                                                               December 17, 1952

Honorable John Panesko
Prosecuting Attorney
Lewis County
Chehalis, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 440

 Dear Sir:

             In your letter of December 1, 1952, you request an opinion on each of the following questions:

             "1. Has the Board of County Commissioners of a third class county the authority to employ someone to crush several thousand yards of gravel and stock pile it for general use, where the amount of the work runs into several thousand dollars, without calling for bids?

             "2. Has the Board of County Commissioners the authority to purchase lumber and road building materials in various quantities for general use, without calling for bids irrespective of the amount involved?"

             You state that "In each of the above instances it is to be used for general use only with no emergency repair in mind at a time of purchase.  It is to be of general use over a period of time."

             It is the opinion of this office that both of the foregoing questions must be answered in the affirmative.


             There is established in each county of this state a Board of County Commissioners.  RCW 36.32.010.

             "All of the county roads in each of the several counties shall be established, laid out, constructed, altered, repaired, improved, and maintained by the board of county commissioners of the respective counties as agents of the state." RCW 36.75.020.

             "There is created in each county of the state a county fund to be known as the 'county road fund' . . ." (RCW 36.82.010)

             That fund shall be expended for county road purposes:  construction, alteration, repair, improvement or maintenance of county roads and bridges; acquisition, operation and maintenance of machinery, equipment, quarries, or pits for extraction of materials, and other proper county road costs.  RCW 36.82.010 to 36.82.100 inclusive.

             No items of road equipment shall be purchased by any county and payment made therefor from the county road fund where the sales price  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of such equipment is in excess of five hundred dollars, except upon a call for bids and award made to the lowest and best bidder. RCW 36.82.130.

             The board of county commissioners of each county shall meet the first Monday in October each year for hearing on preliminary estimates of expenditures for the ensuing fiscal year by offices, departments and/or institutions of the county.  There shall be included within that preliminary budget a county road budget of estimated expenditures for overhead and operations; bond and warrant retirement; maintenance; construction and operation of equipment rental and revolving fund.  These several items in the final budget for the calendar year shall not be altered or exceeded in the absence of an emergency warranting such expenditure.  Upon the conclusion of the budget hearing in October of each year, the board of county commissioners shall fix and determine each item of the budget separately.  The estimates of expenditures itemized and classified as finally fixed and adopted in detail by the board shall constitute the appropriations for the county for the ensuing fiscal year; and the county commissioners and all other county officers shall be limited in the making of expenditures or the incurring of liabilities to the amount of such detailed appropriation items or classes respectively.  Transfers between the general classes of "salaries and wages," "maintenance and operation" and "capital outlay" shall not be permitted, except that in the case of appropriations from the county road fund, any transfer between the general classes of (1) salaries and wages, (2) maintenance and operation, and (3) capital outlay may be made.  RCW 36.40.020, 36.40.040, 36.40.070, 36.40.080, 36.40.100 and 36.82.160.

             The legislature created in each county a fund to be known as the "equipment rental and revolving fund."  This fund shall be used by the county commissioners as a revolving fund to be expended only for purchase of new or additional road equipment, repair and/or maintenance of road equipment, purchase of necessary supplies for operating road equipment, and purchase or manufacture of road or bridge material in advance of its use.  RCW 36.82.220.

             The statute requires that within Class A and first class counties purchase of supplies, materials and equipment for practically all departments of the county shall be on a competitive basis.  It is rather anomalous that there is no such restriction as to counties of the other classes, except, as to road equipment, the purchase of which must be made on a competitive basis if the cost exceeds five hundred dollars.  RCW 36.82.130.

             The county commissioners of third class counties are limited in the making of expenditures or the incurring of liabilities to the amount of the detailed appropriation items or classes, as fixed by the budget, but may make transfers between general classes as stated above, in the case of appropriations from the county road fund.  There is no statutory requirement that county commissioners for third class counties (so long as they keep within the restrictions of the budget) shall make purchases on a competitive basis, except for the purchase of road equipment, the cost of which is in excess of five hundred dollars.  So too, the board of county commissioners of a third class county may utilize  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] the services of one as an employee or as a contractor to operate rock crushing equipment, the only limitation being found within the budget.

 Very truly yours,
Attorney General 

Chief AssistantAttorney General