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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1954 No. 314 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


A county may not make an advanced contribution to a fund to be administered by private parties to defray the cost of dedicating McNary Dam.  It may, however, pay certain items of cost upon duly certified vouchers after the services have been performed or the materials furnished.

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                                                              September 10, 1954

Honorable Maloy Sensney
Prosecuting Attorney
Benton County
Fisk Building
Prosser, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 314

  Mr. Herbert H. Davis, Deputy

Dear Sir:

            In answer to your letter of August 16, 1954, we conclude that Benton County may not contribute $1,000 from the planning commission fund to the McNary Dam Dedication Committee.  The county may, however, pay a portion of the cost of the dedication program upon vouchers duly certified,after the services have been performed or the materials furnished.


            On September 23, 1954, the President of the United States will dedicate McNary Dam across the Columbia River near Plymouth, Washington, and Umatilla, Oregon.  An elaborate program has been planned by the officials in charge, and it will be necessary to raise funds to defray the cost thereof.  The question  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] has arisen whether certain political subdivisions of the state may contribute to the fund being raised for this purpose.  This opinion is concerned with the authority of Benton County to contribute $1,000 from its planning commission fund, to the McNary Dam Dedication Committee, which will administer the fund.

            It is a well ‑ settled rule that the officers of political subdivisions of the state have only those powers expressly vested by the constitution or by statute, or those necessarily implied from the powers granted.  It is necessary, therefore, to find such power in the statutes, otherwise it does not exist.

            Chapter 35.63 RCW encompasses the law of the state relating to city and county planning commissions.  The general powers of such commissions are defined by RCW 35.63.060, in part, as follows:

            "The commission may act as the research and fact finding agency of the municipality.  To that end it may make such surveys, analyses, researches and reports as are generally authorized or requested by its council or board, or by the state council with the approval of its council or board.  The commission, upon such request or authority may also:

            "* * *

            "(4) Cooperate with other commissions, with the state council and with other public agencies of the municipality, state and United States in such planning, conservation, and development; and

            "(5) In particular cooperate with and aid the state council within its territorial limits in the preparation of the state master plan and in advance planning of public works programs."

            Subdivisions (4) and (5) expressly authorize planning commissions tocooperate with other public agencies in carrying out the planning, conservation, and development policy of the state.  RCW 35.63.050 authorizes such commissions to make expenditures, limited to the amounts appropriated for the purpose by the board of county commissioners.  Thus, planning commissions are expressly  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] authorized to join with other planning commissions, as well as state and Federal agencies, in a joint expenditure of moneys in formulating a program of conservation and development of natural resources.  There can be no doubt that the construction and operation of the dam itself constitutes a conservation and development program.  Whether the dedication of the dam can be so considered is a more difficult question.

            Dedication ceremonies have come to be recognized as one of the customary incidents of any public works project.  Although they are not a necessary part of a conservation and development plan, such ceremonies are a symbol of the completion of preparation and the commencement of operation of a public facility.  They fall in the same class as graduation exercises by educational institutions, a practice long recognized as an incidental part of public school operation.  In the technical sense, neither is necessary, but they are universally accepted by the public as a part of the broader program.  Payment of the costs of such ceremonies, at least in part from public funds, is now a long-established practice.  We believe that a county may pay a portion of the cost of the dedication of McNary Dam from funds appropriated to its planning commission for conservation and development.

            It does not necessarily follow from what has just been said, that a county may make a blind contribution to a fund or "kitty" to be used at the discretion of private parties.  RCW 42.24.010 requires all state, county, city and precinct officers charged with the disbursement of public moneys to take fully itemized vouchers in duplicate for such disbursements.  The statute then provides:

            "Said vouchers shall contain a certificate by the responsible officer, certifying on honor that the materials furnished, labor performed, or services rendered, for which the disbursement is made, have been actually delivered, rendered or performed."  (Emphasis supplied)

            This statute not only requires that expenditures be supported by fully itemized vouchers, but by the strongest implication, it prohibits advance contributions.  It follows, therefore, that a county may not make an advance contribution to be expended by the committee, but could pay a portion of the cost of the ceremony, upon duly authenticated vouchers supported by a certificate that the service has actually been rendered.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Finally, we deem it necessary to make certain observations as to the propriety of expending public funds for specific purposes.  Under no circumstances could expenditures for personal entertainment be considered a public purpose.  Neither do we believe that the expense of travel, housing and subsistence for visiting dignitaries could be so considered.  However, general publicity, physical improvements on the property (grandstands, etc.), public relations booths and similar items are ordinarily considered expenditures for a public purpose and these, we think, could properly be paid by the county.  Each expenditure should be scrutinized by the auditing officers, to the end that they be limited to items reasonably connected with a public purpose.

            We hope the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General