Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1962 No. 152 -
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


The term "preceding year's total payroll" as used in RCW 41.14.210 which provides for the support of the sheriff's civil service commission, means the budgeted total payroll for the fiscal year preceding the ensuing fiscal year.

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                                                                  August 8, 1962

Honorable L. Edward Brown
Prosecuting Attorney
Abel Building
Montesano, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 152

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office construing a statute relative to the financial support of the sheriff's office civil service commission.  Specifically we paraphrase your question as follows:

            What is the meaning of "preceding year's total payroll" as used in RCW 41.14.210"?

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


            Our discussion must begin with the county budget law, which requires that on or before the second Monday in August of each year county officials must file with the county auditor estimates of income and expenditure for the ensuing fiscal year.  The auditor then prepares the budget for the ensuing fiscal year and submits it to the county commissioners who may make revisions or additions as they deem advisable. RCW 36.40.010, 36.40.040, 36.40.050.

            Section 21, chapter 1, Laws of 1959, which is codified as RCW 41.14.210, provides as follows:

            "The board of county commissioners of each county may provide in the county budget for each fiscal year a sum equal to one‑half of one per cent of thepreceding year's total  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]ad payroll of those included under the jurisdiction and scope of this act.  The funds so provided shall be used for the support of the commission.  [Sheriff's office civil service commission.]  Any part of the funds so provided and not expended for the support of the commission during the fiscal year shall be placed in the general fund of the county, or counties according to the ratio of contribution, on the first day of January following the close of such fiscal year."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In so far as the latter statute relates to the county budget it should be construed in the light of the county budget law.  The legislature is presumed to be aware of existing legislation in enacting statutes.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 191 P. (2d) 858 (1948).  It then becomes apparent that the legislature intended that each year a budget shall be prepared for the ensuing fiscal year and that "preceding year" as used in RCW 41.14.210 refers to the fiscal year preceding the ensuing fiscal year.  In construing a statute the court should ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature.  Public Hosp. Dist. v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn. (2d) 623, 269 P. (2d) 594 (1954).

            Also, according to the grammatical construction of RCW 41.14.210,supra, it is evident that "preceding year" modifies "each fiscal year."  Since the fiscal year for which the budget is being prepared is the ensuing fiscal year, the "preceding year" is the fiscal year preceding the ensuing fiscal year.  In the case ofIn re Andy, 49 Wn. (2d) 449, 302 P. (2d) 963 (1956), the court said:

            "When a contrary intention does not appear in a statute, relative and qualifying words and phrases, both grammatically and legally, refer to the last antecedent.  The last antecedent is the last word which can be made an antecedent without impairing the meaning of the sentence.  Davis v. Gibbs, 39 Wn. (2d) 481, 483, 236 P. (2d) 545 (1951), and cases cited. . . ."

            Having determined the meaning of "preceding year" our next task is to determine what the legislature intended the term "total payroll" to mean.

            "Total payroll" as used in the statute could not mean actual payroll since the fiscal year preceding the ensuing fiscal year is still in progress and the actual payroll is not yet known.  Nor could "total  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]ad payroll" mean the actual payroll of the fiscal year to date plus the amount budgeted for the balance of the year since no provision has been made for a cutoff date of the actual payroll.  (The estimates for the ensuing year can be prepared at any time before the second Monday in August.)  If such a construction were made various county officials would be using different periods for the actual payroll.

            Therefore the only meaning the legislature could have intended by the phrase "total payroll" is "budgeted total payroll."  InDeGrief v. City of Seattle, 50 Wn. (2d) 1, 297 P. (2d) 940 (1956), our court said:

            "'It is a rule of statutory construction almost universal that it is the duty of the courts to give such construction to the language of a statute as will make it purposeful and effective, rather than futile and meaningless.'  Denning v. Quist, 172 Wash. 83, 19 P. (2d) 656."

            Also in the case ofState ex rel. Thorp v. Devin, 26 Wn. (2d) 333, 173 P. (2d) 994 (1946), our court said:

            "The general purpose or spirit of a legislative act must always be held in view, and absurd consequences avoided as far as possible.  Dennis v. Moses, 18 Wash. 537, 52 Pac. 333, 40 L.R.A. 302; State v. Asotin County, 79 Wash. 634, 140 Pac. 914; In reHorse Heaven Irr. Dist., 11 Wn. (2d) 218, 118 P. (2d) 972; Martin v. Department of Social Security, 12 Wn. (2d) 329, 121 P. (2d) 394.  A thing which is within the object, spirit, and meaning of a legislative act is as much within the act as if it were within the letter.  State ex rel. Spokane United Rys. v. Department of Public Service, 191 Wash. 595, 71 P. (2d) 661; 2 Lewis' Sutherland Statutory Construction (2d ed.), §§ 369, 379."

            Therefore, it is our conclusion that the term "preceding year's total payroll" as used in RCW 41.14.210 means the budgeted total payroll for the fiscal year preceding the ensuing fiscal year.

            You stated in your letter that you will soon be working on the estimates for the fiscal year 1963.  Therefore the one‑half of one percent limitation will be based on the 1962 budgeted total payroll.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]

            We trust that our analysis of your inquiry will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General