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COUNTY GOVERNMENT – FINANCES AND MISCELLANEOUS
64. Introductory. - A good deal has been said on the subject of county finances in Chapter V in connection with the duties of the board of supervisors, the assessor, tax collector, treasurer, and auditor. We shall now briefly consider the various sources from which a county obtains money, and how county money is spent.
65. Sources of County Revenues. — A county receives
1. From fines imposed by justices of the peace and superior judges.
2. From fees collected in the offices of the county clerk, sheriff, recorder, surveyor, public administrator, and by justices of the peace and constables. All fees are carefully regulated by state law, and are paid into the county treasury, except when the law permits them to be retained by the officers collecting them.
3. From licenses granted by the board of supervisors, such as saloon licenses.
4. From taxes imposed by the board of supervisors. The law fixes no limit to the county tax rate. All work done by a county is authorized by the state, and much of it is imposed upon the county by the state. The supervisors have the power to levy a sufficient tax to enable the
county government to do its work, and there is great variety in county tax rates throughout the state. For example, the county rate in Modoc county, including the road tax outside of incorporated cities, for the year 1912 was $1.16 on the $100; in Sutter county it was $1.96; and in Yuba county it was $2.66.
5. From the state school fund which is apportioned among the counties by the state superintendent of public instruction for the support of the public schools.
6. From the state treasury to assist in supporting orphans, half orphans, and abandoned children. The state regularly distributes a comparatively small amount of money among the counties in proportion to the number of such children supported in public and private charitable institutions.
7. From the sale of county property; such as produce from the county poor farm, or any lumber, machinery, furniture, or other merchandise that may be in possession of the supervisors and not needed by the county.
66. County Bonds. - The money derived from the sources previously mentioned is intended to pay the ordinary running expenses of the county government. When the county wishes to undertake some unusual task, such as putting up an expensive public building, it may borrow money for the purpose, provided that its debts never amount to more than five per cent of the value of all the taxable property in the county. A county borrows money by issuing bonds. A county bond is a promise of the county to pay a given amount of money, at a given time, at a given rate of interest. Before the supervisors can issue and sell bonds they must submit the matter to the voters at a regular or special election. The exact amount to be borrowed, the rate of interest to be paid, the time
that the bonds are to run, and the purpose for which the money is to be used must be published during at least four weeks before the election. The ballots used at the election must contain a general statement of the amount and purpose of the bonds. If two thirds of the votes cast at the election are in favor of the bonds, the supervisors must have them printed and must sell them at not less than par.
The purpose for which the bonds are issued must of course be some undertaking for which the state law definitely authorizes the expenditure of county money, otherwise the bonds are illegal. When money is borrowed for a certain purpose, it can be used for no other purpose. A county may borrow money for any length of time, not exceeding forty years. It may not pay a greater interest than six per cent. The supervisors must levy taxes each year to pay the interest on borrowed money; and, during the second half of the time for which the money was borrowed, they must provide for laying aside each year a certain amount, determined by law and called a sinking fund, to be used in paying the debt when it falls due.
67. The Spending of County Money. - Every county has its own money, in its own treasury, but it cannot spend a cent of it except for purposes authorized by state law. Concerning the manner in which it is spent we need only to sum up what has already been said. As we have seen, it is first appropriated by the supervisors. They appropriate most of it by placing it in various funds. After a fund has been established for a certain purpose, money may be drawn from it by order of the board or officer having immediate charge of the work. Money is drawn from the general fund on special orders issued by the supervisors. The treasurer pays money out' only on warrants issued by the auditor; so that every order must be drawn on the auditor, no matter by whom or against what fund it is drawn.
The law intends that every county shall conduct its ordinary business on a cash basis; that is, that the running expenses of each fiscal year shall be paid out of the revenues provided for the year. Debts carried from one fiscal year into another cannot be paid until all the needs of the succeeding year have been provided for. If a surplus remains, old debts may be paid, otherwise they remain unpaid. This of course does not apply to debts that result from the sale of bonds.
68. Suits against a County. - Inasmuch as a county acts as the agent of the state in everything that it does, one cannot sue a county except in so far as the state law permits. The law permits a county to be sued for the value of merchandise or material of any kind that has been furnished, or for labor that has been performed, provided that the material was furnished or the labor was performed in a manner prescribed by law, and for the accomplishment of some purpose authorized by law. A county cannot be sued for the blunders or the carelessness of its officers. In case of carelessness an officer may be sued personally, but not the county. If the supervisors should purchase merchandise, or cause labor to be performed, for the county without definite authority of law, neither could be lawfully paid for from the county treasury.?
One is likely to obtain little satisfaction in suing a county, even if the debt is a lawful one. This is true because judgment against a county only converts a disputed claim into a valid one. It does not insure payment, because neither public nor private property can be seized to satisfy the debt, and the treasurer will not pay it until the
1 See Supreme Court decisions, 21 Cal. 113; 62 Cal. 180; 78 Cal. 303 ; 109 Cal. 618.
See decisions of the State Supreme Court, 10 Cal. 278; 116 Cal. 662. 34 Cal. 285; 43 Cal. 270.
supervisors have appropriated money for the purpose. It stands on a footing with all other valid claims. If the supervisors refuse to order it paid, they may be compelled to do so by mandamus proceedings; but even then they would have to appropriate the money from the surplus revenue for the year. That is, the necessary running expenses of the county would have to be paid first. Furthermore, judgment against the surplus revenue of a county for any particular year does not hold against the revenue for any subsequent year.'
When a person is dealing with a county, or any other public corporation, he is presumed to know its limitations and powers. The law puts on him the burden of determining whether the transaction is legal or not. This means that before any person works for a county, sells it material, or lends it money, he should make certain that the work which he is employed to do, or the purpose for which the material or money is to be used, is definitely authorized by law.
SECTION 2. MISCELLANEOUS MATTERS 69. The Removal of County Officers. — The power to remove elective county officers resides in the superior court and in the people.
No officer can be dismissed by the superior court except for cause.
“Willful or corrupt misconduct in office” is cause for dismissal. This may amount to a crime; or it may consist of nothing more than carelessness, incompetency, or neglect of duty. The board of supervisors, the grand jury, or any person may charge an officer with misconduct; and, if he does not resign, it is the duty of the district attorney to prosecute him before the court. If the district attorney is accused, the court must appoint an attorney to prosecute him. Any accused officer is en