DISTRICTS ‑- FIRE PROTECTION ‑- COUNTIES ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- SCHOOL DISTRICTS ‑- MUNICIPALITIES ‑- SERVICE CHARGES FOR CERTAIN FIRE PROTECTION
Chapter 126, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., does not authorize a board of fire commissioners to impose a service charge on real and personal property owned by the state or any county or other municipal corporation which is benefited by fire protection service offered by a fire protection district.
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September 5, 1974
Honorable Earl F. Tilly
Wenatchee, Washington 98801 Cite as: AGLO 1974 No. 78
By recent letter you have requested the opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:
May a board of fire commissioners, pursuant to chapter 126, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., impose a service charge on real and personal property owned by the state or any county or municipal corporation (other than public schools or institutions of higher education) which is benefited by fire protection services offered by such district?
For the reasons set forth in our analysis we answer this question in the negative.
Under section 1, chapter 126, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., the board of commissioners of any fire protection district is generally authorized to fix and impose a service charge upon all personal property and improvements to real property located within the district which has or will be benefited by fire protection provided by such district. This section, however, goes on to provide that this service charge shall not apply to ". . . personal property and improvements to real property owned or used by public or private schools or institutions of higher education. . . ."
Read in isolation, this express exemption for school property would undoubtedly raise a clear implication that property owned or used by other public agencies was not [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] intended to be similarly exempt. See State ex rel. Thielicke v. Superior Court, 9 Wn.2d 309, 114 P.2d 1001 (1941). However, such a reading would overlook the following additional exemptions granted by section 2 of the act:
". . . there shall be exempt from the service charge imposed pursuant to the provisions of this chapter all personal property not assessed and subjected to ad valorem taxation by the county assessor pursuant to the provisions of Title 84 RCW, and all property subject to the provisions of RCW 52.36.020: . . ."
Looking first to Title 84 RCW, we find in RCW 84.36.010 the following statutory exemption from ad valorem property taxation:
"All property belonging exclusively to . . . the state, any county or municipal corporation, and all property under a recorded agreement granting immediate possession and use to said public bodies or under an order of immediate possession and use pursuant to RCW 8.04.090, shall be exempt from taxation. . . ."
Accordingly, all such personal property is, by virtue of section 2 of chapter 126, supra, also exempt from the service charge authorized to be imposed pursuant to that act.
This leaves us only with the question of improvements to real property owned by the state or a county or municipal corporation other than a school district or institution of higher education. As to these, we look to the second clause of section 2, supra, exempting from the service charge for fire protection services ". . . all property subject to the provisions of RCW 52.36.020: . . ."
That section, as amended by chapter 64, Laws of 1973, 1st Ex. Sess., provides that:
"Wherever a fire protection district has been organized which includes within its area or is adjacent to, buildings and equipment, except those leased to a nontax exempt person or organization, owned by the legislative or administrative authority of a state agency or institution or a municipal corporation, the [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] agency or institution or municipal corporation involved shall contract with such district for fire protection services necessary for the protection and safety of personnel and property pursuant of the provisions of chapter 39.34 RCW, as now or hereafter amended: . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)
See, AGLO 1974 No. 5 [[to Dale E. Hoggins, State Representative on January 9, 1974, an Informal Opinion AIR-74505]], copy enclosed, answering several questions relative to the formation of the contracts for fire protection services which are mandated thereby. By exempting all property subject to this statute from the service charge requirements of chapter 126, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., the legislature will thus be seen to have precluded a fire protection district from imposing such charges on those public bodies already required to contract with such districts for fire protection services pursuant to its earlier, 1973 enactment.
Therefore, in summary, we conclude that both personal property and improvements to real property owned and used by the state of Washington, or any county or municipal corporation, are exempt from any service charges which may be imposed under the provisions of the 1974 act here under consideration. Having so concluded, however, we should go on to explain the significance of the express exemption for public school property provided for in section 1 of that act‑-as noted at the outset of this opinion.
The reason for this express exemption was that prior to the passage of chapter 126, supra, RCW 52.36.020 itself had previously been amended by chapter 88, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., to exclude school districts from a necessity to contract for fire protection services under the 1973 amendment to that statute. Accordingly, any improvements to their real property were no longer ". . . subject to the provisions of RCW 52.36.020" when chapter 126 was passed; hence, if those improvements were to be exempt from the service charges authorized thereunder, an express exemption‑-as now appears in section 1, chapter 126, supra‑-was necessary.
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General