PORT DISTRICTS -- LESS THAN ENTIRE COUNTY
Where, in the formation of a port district containing only a portion of a county, it is impossible to obey the provisions of section 9690 Rem. Rev. Stat. as to division of the port district into three commissioner districts of approximately equal population and boundaries following precinct lines, such division may be made upon a population basis only.
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March 1, 1950
Mr. R. F. Buck
San Juan County
Friday Harbor, Washington Cite as: AGO 49-51 No. 229
We have your letter of February 14, 1950, in which you ask the following question:
Where, in the formation of a port district containing only a portion of a county, it is impossible to obey the provisions of section 9690 Rem. Rev. Stat. as to division of the port district into three commissioner districts of approximately equal population and boundaries following precinct lines, may such division be made upon a population basis only?
The conclusions reached may be summarized as follows:
Under the above stated facts, the division may be made upon a population basis.
Your letter states as follows:
"Rem. Rev. Stat., Section 9690, provides that the powers of the district are to be exercised through a port commission of three members and further that '. . . when the port district comprises only a portion of the county, three commissioners districts, numbered consecutively, having approximately equal population [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] and boundaries following ward and precinct lines, shall be described in the petition for the formation of the port district, . . .'
"On San Juan Island, San Juan County, Washington, which is petitioning for the formation of an island-wide port district, there are at present four precincts. If the statute above requires that the port district commissioner districts conform absolutely to the precinct lines, it is impossible to achieve anything approximating equal population in the three districts. If equally populated districts are formed, the boundaries cannot conform to precinct lines.
"Which of the provisions of the statute is controlling -that the district be equally populated or that their boundaries follow precinct lines?"
The most diligent search on our part has failed to reveal any authority which we can cite as in any way decisive of the question you submit.
Arguments and reasons could be advanced for either the population basis or the precinct basis.
Section 1, chapter 16, Laws of 1935 (9707 Rem. Rev. Stat.) provides for the enlargement of port districts. In such section provision is apparently made for addition of a portion of a precinct.
Section 9, chapter 133, Laws of 1935 (9691A-9 Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp.) contains a provision apparently indicating that two or more port districts may each comprise part of the same voting precinct.
Chapter 145, Laws of 1933 (9708-1 to 9708-4 Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp.) provides for the revision or re establishment of boundary lines of port commissioner districts. Section 1 provides for the revision of such boundary lines: "* * * so that each of such districts shall comprise as nearly as possible one third of the population of the said port district: Provided, [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] however, That the territory in no voting precinct shall be divided by the lines of said districts."
School districts have been organized without any particular regard to precinct lines. Chapter 34, Laws of 1939 (5654-101 et seq. Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp.) provided for the formation of fire protection districts without regard to precinct lines.
We note that section 9690, Rem. Rev. Stat., while it provides for the division of the port district into three commissioner districts and that "one commissioner shall be elected from each of said commissioner districts, "does not require that any primary election be held. Port district commissioners are nominated by petition. Thereafter the commissioners are elected by the voters of the entire port district. This is in contrast with the method of electing county commissioners who are nominated by the voters of the respective commissioner districts, but in the general election are elected by all the voters of the county.
We are informed that the proposed port district will embrace only San Juan Island. San Juan Island is now composed of four precincts -the Town of Friday Harbor and three country precincts. Therefore, it will be impossible to literally comply with section 9690, supra. In other words, it is impossible to divide the port district into three commissioner districts with approximately equal population and boundaries following precinct lines.
While the question is perhaps a close one, we believe it is permissible under such circumstances to divide the district on population lines at all times, keeping in mind the wording of the statute. That is, to divide the port district into three commissioner districts of approximately equal population, and if in such division precinct lines must be disregarded in some instance or instances, we believe that such disregard will be considered immaterial.
We have not overlooked the implications contained in State ex rel. Mason v. Board of County Commissioners of King County, 146 Wash. 449, 263 Pac. 735.
Very truly yours,
Assistant Attorney General