Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1954 No. 336 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


County commissioners have the power to fix the budget of the county hospitals.

The board of trustees of a county hospital, through the general superintendent, has the power to hire and classify employees, but the county commissioners fix the budgetary allocation for salaries for each classification.

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                                                                October 22, 1954

Honorable Fred H. Dore
State Representative, 37th District
905 American Building
Seattle 4, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 336

Dear Sir:

            In your letter of October 4, 1954, you asked whether, under RCW 36.32.120 and RCW 74.08.420, the county commissioners had the power to fix the budget of county hospitals.

            On October 11, 1954, by telephone, you asked if the county commissioners had the authority to raise salaries of individual employees in the county hospitals.

            It is our opinion that the county commissioners under RCW 74.08.420, and chapter 36.40 RCW, have the power to fix the budget of the county hospitals; that the board of trustees has authority to classify county hospital employees; but that the county commissioners, upon the recommendations of the trustees, have the power to establish by the budget, the salary for each employee classification.


            RCW 74.08.420 was enacted in 1953.  At the same session, RCW 36.62.260 was repealed.  (§ 15 chapter 5, Laws of 1953, Ex. Sess.).  RCW 36.62.260, as it existed before repeal, expressly empowered the county commissioners to fix the budget of county hospitals.  By repealing RCW 36.62.260 and adopting RCW 74.08.420, the legislature obviously intended the latter section to control as to the manner in which the budgets are adopted.  The repeal, however, also  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] impliedly reinstates chapter 36.40 RCW as the section governing budgets of institutions not covered by RCW 74.08.420 and other statutes.  All these sections vest the budget making power in the county commissioners, with some reservations.  RCW 74.08.420 (1) provides as follows:

            "(1) The department of health may utilize county hospitals and county infirmaries as determined necessary.  County institutions so used shall submit a county hospitalization budget and/or infirmary budget to the state director of health not less than forty days prior to the time county budgets are finally approved and adopted by the county commissioners.  He shall consider the proposed budget or budgets and return it or them to the commissioners with his recommendations within thirty days of its receipt by him.  The commissioners shall be empowered to adopt as the final budget the proposed budget or budgets as submitted by the board or boards of trustees, the recommended budget or budgets of the state director of health or such budget or budgets as the county commissioners themselves determine to adopt:  Provided, That if the total of the budget or budgets as finally adopted shall be in excess of the total of the budget or budgets as recommended by the state director of health, the said director may withhold from the county the amount of the excess over and above the total set forth in his recommended budget or budgets.

            "County hospitals and county infirmaries financed by state funds shall be empowered to accept and care for eligible patients from any other county in the state."

            This section applies only to county hospitals which have been utilized by the department of health.  Chapter 36.40 RCW, which is the general provision for fixing of budgets in the county, will apply to any county institutions not otherwise provided for, including hospitals which are not utilized by the department of health, if there are any county hospitals which are not so used.

            RCW 74.08.420 (1), provides:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "* * * That if the total of the budget or budgets as finally adopted shall be in excess of the total of the budget or budgets as recommended by the state director of health, the said director may withhold from the county the amount of the excess over and above the total set forth in his recommended budget or budgets."

            This provision gives the department of health considerable control over the expenditures of the county hospitals in caring for persons to whom the services of the department of health are available, but it does not take away the power of the commissioners to fix and adopt the budgets for such hospitals.  The classifications of the employees of county hospitals are set by the board of trustees of the hospital.  The duty of the board in this regard is included in the general supervisory power given to it under RCW 36.62.180 (1).  That section states as follows:

            "The board of trustees shall:

            "(1) Have general supervision and care of such hospitals and institutions and the buildings and grounds thereof and power to do everything necessary to the proper maintenance thereof within the limits of the appropriations authorized;"

            These general supervisory powers, within budgetary limits, would include the power to authorize expenditures of the county hospital.  RCW 36.62.210 gives the trustees express power to appoint and set the wages of the general superintendent.  The necessary result of these sections, taken in connection with the sections providing the county commissioners with budget making powers, is that the trustees, through the general superintendent, shall hire and classify individuals to be employed in the hospital, but in providing for pay, they are limited by the amount allocated for the classification in the budget approved by the county commissioners.

            The form of the budget fixed by the county commissioners is described in RCW 36.40.040.  It indicates that the expenditure section of the budget shall be set forth in a certain manner and classified under certain headings.  Among the classifications is the general class of "Salaries and Wages."  The section provides that

            "Within the general class of 'salaries and wages' each salary shall be set forth separately together with the title or position of the recipient.  * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Apparently, therefore, all wages of each "office, department, service or institution of the county" is specifically provided for in the budget as approved by the county commissioners.  InState ex rel. Bradford v. King County, 197 Wash. 393, 399, 85 P. (2d) 670 (1938), the court said:

            "It is no longer open to question in this jurisdiction that, where salaries are fixed by the budget of the legislative or governing body of a city or county, a regular employee can look to that salary as fixed in the budget and recover for any reduction not authorized or approved by the appropriate legislative body of the political subdivision in question.  Rhodes v. Tacoma, 97 Wash. 341, 166 Pac. 647; State ex rel. Knez v. Seattle, 176 Wash. 283, 28 P. (2d) 1020, 33 P. (2d) 905;Rudnick v. Pierce County, 185 Wash. 289, 54 P. (2d) 409;State ex rel. Ross v. King County, 191 Wash. 340, 71 P. (2d) 370."

            A necessary implication from this statement is that where the wages of employees are fixed by the budget of the county commissioners, only the commissioners will have the power to raise such wages.  Therefore, though the recommendations by the trustees, as a practical matter, do fix the wages as set out in the budget, the county commissioners have the final word on the matter.

            Another section, RCW 36.40.100, indicates that the budget constitutes an appropriation and that salary classes provided for thereunder shall not be increased above the amount appropriated therefor.  That section provides in part as follows:

            "The estimates of expenditures itemized and classified as finally fixed and adopted in detail by the board of county commissioners shall constitute the appropriations for the county for the ensuing fiscal year; and the county commissioners and every other county official shall be limited in the making of expenditures or the incurring of liabilities to the amount of such detailed appropriation items or classes respectively: Provided, That upon a resolution formally adopted by the board at a regular or special meeting and entered upon the minutes, transfers or revisions within the general classes of 'salaries and wages,' 'maintenance and operation' and 'capital outlay' may be made:  Provided, further, That no salary class shall be increased above the total amount appropriated therefor."  (Emphasis  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] supplied)

            Therefore, our conclusions are as follows:

            1. That the budget of the county hospitals shall be fixed by the county commissioners under RCW 74.08.420 and chapter 36.40 RCW.

            2. That the board of trustees shall designate the classification of the employee but the salaries of the employees, by class, are fixed by the county commissioners and included in the budget for the county hospital.

            3. That such salaries as fixed by the budget of the county hospital shall not be changed except as by action of the county commissioners.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General