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July 16, 1970
Honorable Martin J. Durkan
State Senator, 47th District
404 Olympic National Building
Seattle, Washington 98104
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 102
This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on a question pertaining to the eligibility of certain real property owned by the Pacific Northwest Conference of the Free Methodist Church of North America for taxation on the basis of a "current use assessment" under the provisions of chapter 87, Laws of 1970, commonly referred to as the open space land act.
You have indicated that your question has arisen by reason of the recent decision of the Washington State Supreme Court in the case of Pacific Northwest Conference of the Free Methodist Church of North America v. Barlow, 77 W.D.2d 492 [[77 Wn.2d 487]], 463 P.2d 626 (1969). In that case, the supreme court held that the land in question, which is located in Snohomish county and is used as a Bible camp by the Free Methodist Church, is not exempt from taxation under the provisions of RCW 84.32.020 or 84.32.030.
Of course, all this ruling of the court means is that the subject real property is taxable; i.e., that it is not exempt from ad valorem property taxation on the basis of religious use as provided for in the particular exemption statute. The further question which you have raised is whether, in terms of the tax treatment to be given to it, this real property may qualify for assessment on the basis of "current use" under the provisions of chapter 87, Laws of 1970 ‑ as distinguished from assessment on the basis of its true and fair market value based upon its "highest and best" use which is the ordinary criteria for determining the assessed valuation of real property in this state. Accord, AGO 65-66 No. 65 [[to State Tax Commission on December 31, 1965]].
Under the provisions of the 1970 act in question, the eligibility of the property for assessment on the basis [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of its "current use" will depend upon the particular nature of the property, as determined by the county assessor following an application by the landowner for a "current use assessment" under the provisions of § 3, chapter 87, Laws of 1970. Then, the question will be a factual one which will only be answerable on the basis of an application of the various definitions contained in § 2 of the act to the factual characteristics of the property.
Furthermore, it should be noted in any event that by virtue of § 16 of the "open space" act, the provisions of that act do not become effective until January 1, 1971 ‑ so it would not appear to be possible for any determination to be made by the county assessor in advance of that time with respect to whether or not a "current use assessment" status is to be granted to the property for future assessment purposes.
It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Assistant Attorney General