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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 360 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


A county does not have authority to expend funds to make an industrial survey of the county looking toward the possible local industrial use of electrical power that will eventually become available within the county.

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                                                                    July 31, 1952

Honorable Thurman E. Ward
Prosecuting Attorney
Klickitat County
Goldendale, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 360

Dear Sir:

            You have submitted the question whether it is a proper expenditure of county funds to hire a qualified organization to make an industrial survey of the county looking toward the possible local industrial use of power that will be made available by the construction of the Dalles Dam on the Columbia River.

            The conclusion reached is that such an expenditure would not be proper as there is no express or implied statutory authority to cause such a survey to be made by a county.


            Counties are but arms of agencies of the state organized to carry out or perform some functions of state government.  They, as instrumentalities of the state, have no powers except those expressly conferred by the constitution and state laws or those which are reasonably or necessarily implied from the granted powers.  State v. Superior Court, 2 Wn. (2d) 575, 98 P. (2d) 985 (1940);Carpenter v. Okanogan County, 163 Wash. 18, 299 Pac. 400 (1931).

            There appear no express authority either in the constitution or under statute to make a survey of the nature above indicated.  Furthermore, it would appear from the powers granted counties generally in RCW 36.01.010 and those granted  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] the board of county commissioners under RCW 36.32.120 that there is no implied or necessary power to make such a survey.  In an opinion of the attorney general to the prosecuting attorney of Grays Harbor County, dated August 31, 1951, a copy of which we enclose, it was stated that expenditures made for a survey of the county would be proper as within the implied powers of the board of county commissioners arising out of their express authority to furnish the county assessor with maps of the county.  The opinion expressed the belief that a survey by air could be construed to be a map.  We find nothing in the statutes, however, which gives rise to an analogous implication of power to make an industrial survey.  Where there is a reasonable doubt as to the existence of a particular power in a board of county commissioners, that doubt must be resolved against the board.  Lewis v. Petroleum County, 92 Mont. 563, 17 P. (2d) 60 (1932).

            In considering the propriety of the proposed expenditure there is also the question of whether this expenditure of the public money would be for a public purpose.  The meaning of "public purpose" has expanded greatly since the turn of the century, but, while we do not have enough facts to give a definitive answer on this aspect of the problem, it is probable that such an expenditure might be successfully attacked as not being for a public purpose.  However, since there is no legislative authorization for the expenditure, it becomes unnecessary to determine whether such an undertaking would be in furtherance of a public purpose.

            While it may be proper (though we express no opinion on this point) for a public utility district to make such an industrial survey to enable it to evaluate the possible future demand for electrical power, it remains, nevertheless, beyond the authority of the board of county commissioners to expend county funds for making such a survey.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General