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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1954 No. 335 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


Water district commissioners lack authority to expend funds on an improvement plan which voters rejected.

Water district commissioners may sell real property purchase option to private party.

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                                                                October 19, 1954

Honorable Elmon Adams Geneste
Prosecuting Attorney
San Juan County
Friday Harbor, Washington                                                                                                             Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 335

Dear Sir:

            In answer to your letter of October 5, 1954, we advise that the commissioners of a water district are without power to negotiate a loan for the purchase of real property when the electorate has not ratified a comprehensive plan under which the purchase was proposed.  In addition, we advise that said commissioners may sell an option to purchase real property to a private party.


            The commissioners of the Eastsound Water District of San Juan County adopted a comprehensive plan wherein water was to be obtained from a well.  Without awaiting ratification of said plan by the electorate, the commissioners entered into an option type of agreement to buy a parcel of land for the well site and then proceeded to incur expenses occasioned by drilling the well.  Prior to the completion of drilling, the electorate rejected the comprehensive plan.  The  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] commissioners are now desirous of negotiating a loan to purchase the well site under the option, or if they lack the legal authority so to do, they desire to sell their option to a private person who will reimburse them for funds expended in drilling and create a private water system.

            RCW 57.16.010 provides in relevant part:

            "Before making any district improvement or submitting to vote any plan for incurring any indebtedness, the commissioners shall adopt a comprehensive plan of water supply * * *"

            and RCW 57.16.020 (1953 Supp.) provides in part:

            "* * * When the comprehensive plan has been adopted the commissioners shall carry it out to the extent specified in the proposition to incur general indebtedness."

            While RCW 57.16.010 and RCW 57.16.020 (1953 Supp.) do not prohibit the borrowing of the funds necessary to take up the option they prohibit the expenditure of funds for any expenses incurred in drilling the well, since such expenditures may be made only upon adoption of the comprehensive plan by the electorate and its consent to incur general indebtedness.

            In view of the community's apparent change in attitude toward the comprehensive plan, we suggest that it again be submitted for ratification in the forthcoming general election.  Should the plan be accepted and should consent to incur general indebtedness be obtained, the premature making of the expenditures will be ratified and not subject to attack.

            If the electorate again rejects the plan, the commissioners may sell the option under authority of RCW 57.08.015 (1953 Supp.) which provides:

            "The board of commissioners of a water district may sell, at public or private sale, property belonging to the district if the board determines by unanimous vote of the elected members of the board that the property is not and will not be needed for district purposes and if the board gives notice of intention to sell as in this section provided.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "The notice of intention to sell shall be published once a week for three consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the district.  The last publication shall be at least twenty days but not more than thirty days before the date of sale.  The notice shall describe the property and state the time and place at which it will be sold or offered for sale, the terms of sale, whether the property is to be sold at public or private sale, and if at public sale the notice shall call for bids, fix the conditions thereof and shall reserve the right to reject any and all bids."

            We sincerely hope that this problem will give you no further difficulty.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General