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AGO 1953 No. 9 - April 09, 1953
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICTS ‑- ASSESSMENTS ‑- EXEMPTION ‑- LANDS ALSO SUBJECT TO FOREST PATROL ASSESSMENT.

 The present procedure by which certain county assessors are collecting both fire patrol assessments and fire protection district levies from a given piece of forest land is unlawful, being in violation of RCW 52.04.030 and 52.16.130, and possibly RCW 52.16.120.

 RCW 52.04.030 and 52.16.130 prohibit fire protection districts from levying against forest lands therein which are already being taxed under RCW 76.04.360, but do not prohibit such a levy against forest lands which may be but are not presently taxed under RCW 76.04.360.

There is no constitutional objection to legislation that would permit assessments of certain parcels of forested lands under both the forest patrol statutes and the fire protection district statutes.

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                                                                    April 9, 1953 

Honorable B. L. Orell
Supervisor
Department of Conservation & Development
Division of Forestry
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 9

 Attention:  !ttMr. Don Lee Fraser,Assistant Supervisor ‑ Fire Control

Dear Sir: 

            We are in receipt of your letter of March 12, 1953, in which you present the following questions:

             (1) Whether the present procedure, by which certain county assessors are collecting both fire patrol assessments and fire protection district levies from a given piece of forest land, is lawful.

             (2) Whether existing laws give fire protection districts the right to levy against forest land therein which is already taxed under the forest patrol assessment provision, or which may hereafter be taxed under that provision.

             (3) Whether it would be possible to enact valid legislation that would permit the assessment of certain parcels of forested lands under both the forest patrol statutes and the fire protection district statutes.

             Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

             (1) The present procedure by which certain county assessors are collecting both fire patrol assessments and fire protection district levies from a given piece of forest land is in violation of RCW 52.04.030 and 52.16.130, and possible RCW 52.16.120.

             (2) RCW 52.04.030 and 52.16.130 prohibit fire protection districts from levying against forest lands therein which are already being taxed under RCW 76.04.360, but do not prohibit such a levy against forest lands which may be but are not presently taxed under RCW 76.04.360.

             (3) There is no constitutional objection to legislation that would permit assessments of certain parcels of forested lands under both the forest patrol statutes and the fire protection district statutes.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             RCW 52.16.130 reads in part as follows:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            ". . . Provided, That such tax shall not be levied upon those lands within the district which are now or will hereafter be required to pay forest protection assessment: . . ."

             RCW 52.04.030, relating to the petition for formation of a fire district, contains the same limitation similarly worded.  RCW 52.16.120 makes the restriction applicable to levies, in excess of the forty-mill tax limitation, for principal and interest on general obligation bonds.  All three provisions prohibit fire districts from levying upon lands required to pay the forest patrol assessment under RCW 76.04.360.

             It is our opinion that the present procedure which is being followed by certain county assessors is in direct violation of these statutory provisions.  It might be noted, however, that the legality of previous double assessments cannot be attacked except by taxpayers who paid the fire district levy under protest.

             Your second question involves an interpretation of the wording of the limitations in the statutes under consideration.  All three statutes apply to lands within the district which "are now or will hereafter" be required to pay the forest patrol assessment.  There can be no question but that once lands are taxed under the forest patrol statutes, fire districts are prohibited from levying upon the same lands.

             The only questionable phrase is "will hereafter."  We are of the opinion that this phrase does not prohibit fire districts from taxing forest lands until they are actually assessed under the forest patrol provisions.  The phrase "will hereafter" imports certainty.  Until the lands are actually assessed under the forest patrol statutes there is no certainty that they are going to be so assessed.  Until the lands are actually assessed, this restriction upon fire districts can have no effect.  Thus, as soon as, but not until, assessment occurs under the forest patrol statutes, the fire district loses its power to levy upon these lands.

             If, after certain lands have been assessed under the forest patrol statutes, the division of forestry ceases to so assess these lands, there is nothing to prevent the fire districts from again taxing these lands until forest patrol assessments are reestablished.

             Your third question involves an interpretation of Wash. Const., Amendment XIV, which reads in part as follows:

             ". . . All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of property within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax and shall be levied and collected for public purposes only. . . ."

             The two distinct taxing authorities involved in our discussion have entirely different territorial limits.  While a fire district embraces only a limited area, the jurisdiction of the division of forestry  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] extends to forest lands throughout the state.  The constitutional limitation cited requires that taxes shall be uniform within the jurisdiction of each authority.  It does not prohibit two different authorities from taxing the same parcel.  So long as the taxes levied by a fire district upon a certain class of lands therein are uniform, it makes no difference that the division of forestry imposes an additional tax upon the same parcels.

             In Supply Laundry Co. v. Jenner, 178 Wash. 72, at 79, the court said:

            ". . . double taxation is not necessarily unlawful.  There is no constitutional inhibition against it in this state. . . ."

             The constitutional provision cited is the only one that could conceivably have any effect upon the validity of legislation permitting forest patrol assessments and fire district levies to be invoked upon the same parcel of land.  It is the opinion of this office that legislation of the type discussed would not violate this constitutional provision.

 Very truly yours,
DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General

WILLIAM C. HALLIN
Assistant Attorney General

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