Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1964 No. 127 - Oct 29 1964
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


Under Article XI, § 3, of the Washington State Constitution, territory may be transferred from one county to another by (1) petition of the voters living in the territory to be transferred; and (2) compliance with general enabling legislation applicable to the entire state; however, since there is no existing enabling legislation, such legislation would have to be enacted for that purpose.

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                                                                October 29, 1964

Honorable John L. Cooney
Washington State Senator
North 4403 Adams Street
Spokane 18, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 127

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office concerning what steps would have to be taken in order to cause certain territory which is presently a part of Stevens county to be stricken therefrom and annexed to Spokane county.

            We answer your question in the manner set forth in our analysis.


            The alteration of county boundaries is regulated by Article XI § 3, of the Washington Constitution, which reads:

            "No new counties shall be established which shall reduce any county to a population less than four thousand (4,000), nor shall a new county be formed containing a less population than two thousand (2,000).  There shall be no territory stricken from any county unless a majority of the voters living in such territory shall petition therefor and then only under such other conditions as may be prescribed by a general law applicable to the whole state.  Every county which shall  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] be enlarged or created from territory taken from any other county or counties shall be liable for a just proportion of the existing debts and liabilities of the county or counties from which such territory shall be taken:Provided, That in such accounting neither county shall be charged with any debt or liability then existing incurred in the purchase of any county property, or in the purchase or construction of any county buildings then in use, or under construction, which shall fall within and be retained by the county:  Provided further, That this shall not be construed to affect the rights of creditors."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            We have underscored for purposes of emphasis the portion of this section which is particularly pertinent to your question.  It clearly establishes two distinct conditions precedent to accomplishment of a transfer of territory from one county to another.  They are: (1) A petition by a majority of voters living in the territory to be stricken (i.e., in the instant case, in the portion of Stevens county to which you have referred); and (2) compliance with general enabling legislation applicable to the whole state.1/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            A thorough examination of the existing statutes of the state of Washington reveals that at present there is no general enabling legislation providing for the transfer of territory from one existing county to another.  Obviously, therefore, before the procedures outlined in Article XI, § 3,supra, can be followed the enactment of general enabling legislation will be necessary.  Such legislation, if enacted, most certainly should include among its provisions a definite procedure for complying with the constitutional requirement of approval by a majority of the voters of the territory to be stricken.  It should also cover the matter of apportionment of existing debts and liabilities as contemplated by Article XI, § 3,supra.

            Once such legislation has been duly enacted, transfer of the territory will become simply a matter of following the procedures outlined in the legislation.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/In regard to the second of these conditions, see, also, Article II , § 28, of the Washington Constitution, which provides:

            "The legislature is prohibited from enacting any private or special laws in the following cases:

            ". . .

            "18. Changing county lines, locating or changing county seats, provided, this shall not be construed to apply to the creation of new counties."  (Emphasis supplied.)