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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1950 No. 293 - Jun 30 1950
Attorney General Smith Troy


County commissioners are not authorized to budget for contribution to city in aid of installation of street lighting system in front of county court house, but if a local improvement district were formed, the county could be assessed its prorate share.

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                                                                   June 30, 1950

Honorable Boone Hardin
Prosecuting Attorney
Whatcom County
Bellingham, Washington                                                                                               Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 293

Dear Sir:

            We are in receipt of your letter of May 17, 1950, wherein you have asked the following question:

            Where a county courthouse is situated in an incorporated city, are the county commissioners authorized to provide in the 1951 budget for an expenditure, the purpose of which is the proposed installation of lighting fixtures along the avenue immediately in front of the court house.

            The conclusions reached may be summarized as follows:

            The county commissioners would not be so authorized unless a local improvement district were formed.


            The question whether or not the county commissioners have the authority to budget such an expenditure, is of course, governed by whether or not the expenditure itself is authorized.  You have advised us as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "The county court house in Bellingham, Washington, Whatcom County, faces on Grand Avenue along with the city hall of the City of Bellingham and the Bellingham Public Library which is under construction.  It is the desire of the City of Bellingham and the business men along Grand Avenue to erect a special type of lighting system along approximately four blocks up Grand Avenue.  The entire project will cost $12,000.00.  The City of Bellingham will maintain the lights and will furnish the power.  The business property owners along Grand Avenue have agreed to contribute to the construction costs of the project.

            "The City of Bellingham is requesting that Whatcom County contribute $1,500.00 toward the construction of the lighting system, which would be the proportionate share for the lights along the street in front of the court house."

            It is a familiar principle that a board of county commissioners can exercise no powers which are not in express terms or by fair implication conferred upon it by law.

            We are unable to find anywhere in our statutes the requisite authority to permit the county commissioners to contribute to this project.  Furthermore, by the provision of Section 1, chapter 61, Laws of 1947 (§ 4056 (2) Rem. Supp. 1947) county commissioners are expressly denied the power to do necessary acts relating to county roads where such roads are within the limits of incorporated cities and towns, where by the acts of incorporation, jurisdiction over the roads in the limits of said incorporation is vested in the corporate authorities thereof.  (See in this connectionBarr v. Cowlitz County, 127 Wash. 14 (24) 220 Pac. 6;State ex rel. Suksdorf, 169 Wash. 195, 13 Pac. (2d) 460).  We note that Sec. 183 of the 1930 edition of the Charter of the City of Bellingham vests in the city Board of Public Works, the management and control of all of the public streets and alleys in the city.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Considering the facts which you have submitted, we see no reason, however, why the desired result could not be accomplished by the formation of a local improvement district comprising the street frontage along Grand Avenue for the four blocks in question.  The property owners are apparently willing to cooperate, and since the amendment in 1947 (§ 1, chapter 155, Laws of 1947) of Rem. Rev. Stat. 9365 (now § 9365 Rem. Supp. 1947) where by the old termini and zone method of assessment may be disregarded whenever the nature of the improvement is such that the special benefits conferred on the property are not fairly reflected by its use, the city apparently, now has more latitude than formerly in defining the boundaries of such districts.  If such a district were formed, the county would be assessed for its proportion of the cost, § 1, chapter 61, Laws of 1907 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 9341) and see in this connection Opinions of Attorney General 1923-1924, pp. 294 [[Ops. Atty. Gen. 1923-24, p. 294]].  Such assessments should, of course, be budgeted.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General