Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1952 No. 319 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


The decision as to the propriety of the use of county funds for the purchase of sleeping bags by the county assessor, is within the discretionary powers of the board of county commissioners.

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                                                                    June 4, 1952

Honorable John Panesko
Prosecuting Attorney
Lewis County
Chehalis, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 319

Dear Sir:

            Receipt is hereby acknowledged of your letter of May 1, 1952, in which you have made a request for an opinion on the following matter, and I quote your letter:

            "I have received a request as to whether it is proper for the county assessor to use county funds to buy sleeping bags for his field deputies.

            "Will you kindly advise me whether this can legally be done."

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            The propriety of the use of county funds by the county assessor, for the purchase of sleeping bags for the use of the deputy assessors, in the fulfillment of their duties, is within the sound discretion of the board of county commissioners.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


            The powers vested in the counties generally, are stated in RCW 36.01.010.  Insofar as it is pertinent here, it provides:

            "The several counties in this state shall have capacity as bodies corporate * * * to purchase and hold such personal property, as may be necessary to their corporate or administrative powers, and to do all other necessary acts in relation to all the property of the county."

            RCW 36.01.030 provides:

            "Its powers can only be exercised by the county commissioners, or by agents or officers acting under their authority or authority of law."

            RCW 36.21.010 empowers the county assessor, when he deems it necessary, to employ one or more deputies to assist him in listing and evaluating the property of the county and each assistant so appointed shall, under the direction of the assessor, after taking the required oath, perform all the duties enjoined upon, vested in or imposed upon assessors.  The duties of the county assessor are to be found in chapter 84.40 RCW.

            RCW 84.40.040 provides:

            "* * * determine as nearly as practicable the true and fair value of each tract or lot of land listed for taxation * * *

            "He shall make an alphabetical list of the names of all persons in his county liable to assessment of personal property, and require each person to make a correct list and statement of such property according to the prescribed form, * * *"

            RCW 84.40.060 provides:

            "The assessor shall call at the office, place of business, or residence of each person required to list property, list his name, and require such person to make a correct statement of his taxable property.  * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The powers of the board of county commissioners insofar as they are pertinent here, are contained in RCW 36.32.120, which provides:

            "The several boards of county commissioners shall:

            "* * *

            "(5) Allow all accounts legally chargeable against the county not otherwise provided for, and audit the accounts of all officers having the care, management, collection, or disbursement of any money belonging to the county or appropriated to its benefit;

            "(6) Have the care of the county property and the management of the county funds and business and in the name of the county prosecute and defend all actions for and against the county, and such other powers as are or may be conferred by law;"

            Our Supreme Court has decided several cases which bear upon the issue which you have submitted to us for an opinion.  InState ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, 2 Wn. (2d) 575, 98 P. (2d) 985, the issue was whether the county commissioners had the authority to set up a division of purchases, headed by a purchasing agent who was to be empowered, to purchase and/or contract for all supplies and equipment needed by the various county officials.  At page 585, speaking of county elective officials, the court states:

            "The respondent officers are independent elective officers and are not in any way subordinate to the county commissioners, but responsible only to the people of their county.

            "The individuals holding these offices are required by law to perform certain definite governmental duties.  It is a well recognized rule that a general grant of power or statutory direction to perform official duties, unaccompanied by definite directions as to how the power is to be exercised or the duty performed, implies the right and duty to employ the means and methods necessary to comply with the statutory requirements.  * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            State ex rel. Mannings v. Major, 50 Wash. 355, 97 Pac. 249, was an action involving a writ of mandate to compel the county commissioners to furnish a surveyor's transit to the county surveyor.  The court in its decision recognized that the county commissioners had general charge of the county property and the management of the county funds and business, and further, it was held that mandamus will lie to compel the county commissioners to provide the county surveyor with a transit, where it is admitted that it is necessary to the proper discharge of his duties.

            InState ex rel. Becker v. Wiley, 16 Wn. (2d) 340, 133 P. (2d) 507, one of the issues was whether the county commissioners had the power to provide office space for the prosecuting attorney at a point outside of the county seat.  The court there said:

            "It is a well-recognized principle that many of the acts of county commissioners require the exercise of discretion.  It may be stated as the general rule that a board of county commissioners is a creature of the statute, and has only such powers as are expressly conferred upon it, or necessarily implied from those expressly given, or such as are requisite to the performance of the duties which are imposed on it by law.  * * *

            "InState ex rel. Whitney v. Friars, 10 Wash. 348, 39 Pac. 104, we stated:

            "'The county commissioners are constituted by the law the guardians of the county and its business managers, * * *'"

            It is to be gathered from the foregoing quotations from the applicable statutes and cases, that under our system of county organization, county commissioners have the role of administrative officers, charged with the supervisory control over county funds and county business; although they do not have the authority to interfere with the county officers in the discharge of their official duties, they do have a great deal of discretion in deciding the propriety of expenditures which are made by the several county officials under their supervisory powers.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            It is not beyond the scope of reasoning to say that the purchase of sleeping bags for deputy assessors would be convenient, and in some instances necessary for the carrying out of the county assessor's function in listing and evaluating the property for tax purposes, in the remote and primitive areas of the state.  However, in view of the discretion reposed in the county commissioners by the statutes and the aforementioned cases, the decision as to the propriety of such a purpose and the use of county funds therefor lies within the sound discretion of the board of county commissioners.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General