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AGO 1971 No. 35 - November 17, 1971
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- ASSESSOR ‑- QUALIFICATIONS FOR OFFICE OF COUNTY ASSESSOR

The provisions of § 17, chapter 288, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., establishing certain qualifications to be met by persons having the responsibility of valuing real property for purposes of taxation, although applicable to the assistants or deputies to a county assessor, do not apply to the county assessor himself regardless of whether he holds office by election or by appointment to fill a vacancy.

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                                                               November 17, 1971

Honorable H. N. Woolson
Prosecuting Attorney
Columbia County
338 East Main
Dayton, Washington 99328

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1971 No. 35

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your letter, previously acknowledged, requesting our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            In order to hold the office of county assessor, whether by election or by appointment to fill a vacancy, must a person meet all of the qualifying standards set forth in § 17, chapter 288, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., pertaining to persons having the responsibility of valuing real property for purposes of taxation?

            In our opinion, this question is answerable in the negative for the reasons set forth in the following analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The office of county assessor is among those enumerated in RCW 36.16.030 which provides, in material part, as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] "In every county there shall be elected from among the qualified voters of the countya county assessor, a county auditor, a county clerk, a county coroner, three county commissioners, a county prosecuting attorney, a county sheriff and a county treasurer: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Generally speaking, the duties of the assessor are set forth in chapter 36.21 RCW, together with various provisions of our statutes relating to property taxation which are to be found in Title 84 RCW.  Moreover, while this office is not one of those specifically listed in Article XI, § 5, of our state constitution its creation by the legislature, as a statutory office, is most certainly within the purview of this constitutional provision ‑ which reads as follows:

            "The legislature, by general and uniform laws, shall provide for the election in the several counties of boards of county commissioners, sheriffs, county clerks, treasurers, prosecuting attorneys and other county, township or precinct and district officers, as public convenience may require, and shall prescribe their duties, and fix their terms of office:  Provided, That the legislature may, by general laws, classify the counties by population and provide for the election in certain classes of counties certain officers who shall exercise the powers and perform the duties of two or more officers.  It shall regulate the compensation of all such officers, in proportion to their duties, and for that purpose may classify the counties by population.  And it shall provide for the strict accountability of such officers for all fees which may be collected by them and for all public moneys which may be paid to them, or officially come into their possession."

            Because the qualifications for county elective officers are not set forth in the constitution in the same manner as they are by Article III, § 25, forstate elective officers, we have no doubt that the legislature can prescribe such reasonable qualifications as it sees fit for these county offices.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]   See, In re Bartz, 47 Wn.2d 161, 287 P.2d 119 (1955).1/   However, the essential issue to be resolved by this opinion is whether the legislature has, in fact, done so with regard to the office of county assessor by its recent enactment of § 17, chapter 288, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.

            We begin by noting that the general subject of this 1971 enactment was first considered by the legislature somewhat earlier during its 1971 extraordinary session ‑ when it enacted chapter 27, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.  Section 17, chapter 288,supra, actually constitutes an amendment to § 1 of this earlier enactment, the text may be readily ascertained from the following quotation of the full text of the amendatory provisions of § 17, chapter 288:

            "Section 1, chapter 27, Laws of 1971 first ex. sess. is amended to read as follows:

            "Any person ((assessing)) having the responsibility of valuing real property for purposes of taxation ((and)) including persons acting as assistants or deputies to a county assessor under RCW 36.21.011 as now or hereafter amended, shall have first:

            "(1) Graduated from an accredited high school or passed a high school equivalency examination;

            "(2) Had at least one year of experience in transactions involving real property, in appraisal of real property, or in assessment of real property, or at least one year of experience in a combination of the three;

            "(3) Become knowledgeable in repair and remodeling of buildings and improvement of land, and in the significance of locality and area to the value of real property; and

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] "(4) Become knowledgeable in the standards for appraising property set forth by the department of revenue.

            "The department of personnel shall prepare with the advice of the department of revenue and administer an examination on the subjects of subsections (3) and (4), and no person shall assess real property for purposes of taxation without having passed said examination.  A person passing said examination shall be certified accordingly by the director of the department of personnel:  PROVIDED, HOWEVER, That this section shall not apply to any person who prior to the effective date of this act shall have either:

            "(1) Been certified as a real property appraiser by the department of personnel.

            "(2)  Attended and satisfactorily completed the assessor's school operated jointly by the department of revenue and the Washington state assessors association:  PROVIDED FURTHER, That the department of revenue shall be required to report to the 1973 legislature as to the extent of compliance to the provision of this section by each county within this state."

            Your question is whether this enactment, which is clearly applicable to assistants or deputies to a county assessor, is also applicable to the assessor himself even though it does not expressly state that the various qualifications set forth thereinare applicable to this county elective officer.  In considering this question we are guided by the well-established principle, based upon a strong public policy in favor of eligibility for public office, that eligibility will be presumed and that any statutory enactment purporting to deal with this subject will be strictly construed in favor thereof.  See,Oceanographic Comm'n. v. O'Brien, 74 Wn.2d 904, 447 P.2d 707 (1968);State ex rel. O'Connell v. Dubuque, 68 Wn.2d 553, 413 P.2d 972 (1966), and cases cited therein; 67 C.J.S., Officers, § 11 (p. 125) and cases cited; and 42 Am.Jur., Public Officers, § 37 (p. 908), and cases cited.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]   The message of these cases, simply stated, is that we are not to read into any statutory enactment a qualification for public office which is not clearly expressed therein.

            In the case of § 17, chapter 288, supra, the legislature made express reference to deputies or assistants to a county assessor, and had it intended to include the assessor himself it could easily have said so.  However, since it did not, we believe that the proper conclusion to be reached on the basis of the foregoing authorities is that this 1971 enactment does not establish qualifications for a county assessor, whether appointed to fill a vacancy or holding office by virtue of an election by the voters.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/A notable example of an existing, legislatively established, qualification for county elective office is to be found in RCW 36.27.010 requiring persons serving as county prosecuting attorneys to have been admitted to the practice of law in this state.

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