Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1973 No. 19 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


The provisions of chapter 64, Laws of 1973, Ex. Sess., which on and after July 1, 1974, will require certain municipal corporations holding property situated within or adjacent to a fire protection district to contract with such district for fire protection services, are applicable to school districts holding such property.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                  August 8, 1973

Honorable Ronald L. Hendry
Prosecuting Attorney
Pierce County
946 County-City Building
Tacoma, Washington 98402

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1973 No. 19

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent request for our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Does chapter 64, Laws of 1973, Ex. Sess., which on and after July 1, 1974, will require certain municipal corporations holding property situated within or adjacent to a fire protection district to contract with such district for fire protection services, apply to school districts holding such property?

            We answer this question in the affirmative.


            Prior to its recent amendment by § 1, chapter 64, Laws of 1973, Ex. Sess., RCW 52.36.020 was a statute involving state‑owned land situated within or adjacent to a fire protection district.  It stated that in such cases,

            ". . . the director of finance, budget and business is authorized to arrange for and to make contributions to such district, by payment to the county treasurer, of the county in which the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] district is located, such sum or sums as in his discretion may be equitable for the fire protection received by the state but in no event to exceed the amount such district would receive in revenue should such state property be on the tax rolls of such district."

            However, by this 1973 amendment the legislature broadened the scope of the statute to include other publicly owned property as well ‑ although by § 2 it delayed the effective date of this charge until July 1, 1974.  As of that effective date the requirements of RCW 52.36.020 will be as follows:

            "Wherever a fire protection district has been organized which includes within its area or is adjacent to, buildings and equipment, except those leased to a nontax exempt person or organization, owned by the legislative or administrative authority of a state agency or institution or a municipal corporation, the agency or institutionor municipal corporation involved shall contract with such district for fire protection services necessary for the protection and safety of personnel and property pursuant to the provisions of chapter 39.34 RCW, as now or hereafter amended:  Provided, That nothing in this section shall be construed to require that any state agency, institution, or municipal corporation contract for services which are performed by the staff and equipment of such state agency, institution, or municipal corporation:  Provided further, That nothing in this section shall apply to state agencies or institutionsor municipal corporation which are receiving fire protection services by contract from another municipality, city, town or other entities."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Your question, simply stated, is whether a public school  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] district constitutes a "municipal corporation" within the meaning of this amendatory act.  In our opinion it does.

            As recently explained inRoza Irrigation Dist. v. State, 80 Wn.2d 633, 497 P.2d 166 (1972), the term "municipal corporation" can be used in either a narrow sense as including only cities and towns, or in a broader sense as including various other classes of political subdivisions as well.  Accord, AGO 57-58 No. 61 [[to Paul Klasen, Prosecuting Attorney, Grant County on May 9, 1957]], copy enclosed, in which we determined a school district to be a municipality for the purposes of RCW 29.27.060 (relating to certain municipal ballot propositions) after first observing as follows:

            "Strictly speaking, a 'municipality' is characterized by the fact of voluntary association by the inhabitants of the territory and by the existence of a charter.  62 C.J.S. 77.  A school district lacks these characteristics and is not strictly speaking a 'municipality' or a 'municipal corporation'.  Properly classified, a school district is a quasi-municipal corporation.  62 C.J.S. 64 and 74;Maxon v. School District No. 34, 5 Wash. 142, 145; State ex rel. School District v. Grimes, 7 Wash. 270, 272.  However, when the term 'municipality' or 'municipal corporation' is used in a broad or generic sense, it may include quasi-municipal corporations such as school districts.  State v. Grimes,supra; State ex rel. Griffiths v. Superior Court, 177 Wash. 619, 621;Maxon v. School District No. 34,supra.  The meaning to be attributed to the word as used in a particular statute must be determined by reference to the legislative intent as evidenced by the language of the statute and its subject-matter.  1 McQuillin, Municipal Corporations, (3rd ed.) 472; 62 C.J.S. 76."

            In addition to the cases cited in this excerpt, other instances in which a school district has been held to be a municipal corporation by the Washington court include  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] Seattle High School Chapter No. 200 v. Sharples, 159 Wash. 424, 293 Pac. 994 (1930), and, most recently, a case cited by you in your letter ‑ Edmonds Sch. Dist. v. Mountlake, 77 Wn.2d 609, 465 P.2d 177 (1970).  Our prognostication of this same result with respect to a case arising under the amended wording of RCW 52.36.020, supra, is based upon the following points:

            (1) An ambiguous statute is to be construed according to its apparent general purpose with a view to executing the design and purpose of that act.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn.2d 681, 203 P.2d 693 (1949), and cases cited therein.  The rather obvious purpose of § 1, chapter 64, supra, is that of requiring those public agencies whose property is exempt from taxation to provide some contractual consideration for fire protection services received from a fire protection district; and, manifestly, school districts fall within this class of public agencies.1/

             (2) The manner in which the corresponding word "municipality" appears in the second proviso to § 1, chapter 64,supra, strongly evidences a legislative intent to use both this word and the phrase "municipal corporation" in the broad rather than narrow sense.  Repeated for ease of reference this proviso states:

            ". . .  That nothing in this section shall apply to state agencies or institutions or municipal corporations which art receiving fire protection services by contract from another municipality, city, town or other entities."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Accord, AGO 57-58 No. 61, supra, where, at pp. 2 and 3, we made essentially the same point with respect to the statute there under consideration (RCW 29.27.060) in saying:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            "In RCW 29.27.060 the word 'municipality' must be interpreted in the light of that portion of the statute which states that the prosecuting attorney shall prepare the ballot statement for the county 'or any other political subdivision of the state, other than cities, situated in the county.'  In our opinion this language indicates that the legislature used the word 'municipality' in its generic or broad sense so as to include quasi-municipal corporations such as school districts.  Had the legislature intended otherwise, it could easily have used the word 'town' in place of 'any other political subdivision of the state', a town being the only other true municipality situated in the county."

            (3) Under the provisions of RCW 52.22.030 (codifying § 6, chapter 237, Laws of 1959), no incorporatedcity or town can any longer be included within the territorial borders of a fire protection district.  Accord, AGO 61-62 No. 43 [[to Ray E. Munson, Prosecuting Attorney, Yakima County on June 28, 1961]].  Therefore, if the term "municipal corporation" as used in § 1, chapter 64, supra, were to be given its narrow meaning and thereby were to be read as any including cities and towns, the amendment here under consideration would largely be rendered useless.  Only in those isolated instances in which a city or town owned property situated outside of its own territorial limits or abutting on those limits so as to be "adjacent" to a fire protection district would the subject statute have any operative effect, and had the legislature intended to enact such a limited statute it seems more likely that it would have manifested this intent by using the words "city or town" instead of "municipal corporations."

            (4) Finally, there is the factor that in providing for the execution of contracts by municipal corporations for fire protection services, the 1973 statute here under consideration states that such contracts shall be made pursuant to chapter 39.34 RCW ‑ the interlocal cooperation act.  That act in turn applies to all "public agencies" as defined in RCW 39.34.020 ‑ a statute last amended by § 1, chapter 33, Laws of 1971, to read as follows:

            "For the purposes of this chapter, the term 'public agency' shall mean  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] any city, town, county, public utility district, port district, fire protection district,school district, Indian tribe recognized as such by the federal government, or metropolitan municipal corporation of this state; any agency of the state government or of the United States; and any political subdivision of another state."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Coupled with the other three factors above noted it seems most likely to us that a court would view the cross-reference to this act in § 1, chapter 64,supra, as evidencing legislative intent to include within the scope of that 1973 amendatory act any "municipal corporation" which also constitutes a "public agency" for the purposes of the referenced statute, thereby including school districts.

            For all of the foregoing reasons, then, we answer your question in the affirmative.  RCW 52.36.020, as amended by § 1, chapter 64, Laws of 1973, Ex. Sess., will apply to those school districts owning property in or adjacent to a fire protection district when it becomes effective on July 1, 1974.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See, Wash. Const., Article VII, § 1 (Amendment 14) which provides, in material part, as follows:

            ". . .  Property of the United States and of the state, counties, school districts and other municipal corporations, and credits secured by property actually taxed in this state, not exceeding in value the value of such property, shall be exempt from taxation. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)