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AGO 1972 No. 8 - March 01, 1972
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

TAXATION ‑- REAL PROPERTY ‑- INTEREST RATE ‑- COMPUTATION OF PENALTY INTEREST RATE TO BE ASSESSED UPON PAYMENT OF DELINQUENT REAL PROPERTY TAXES

(1) The reduction in the interest rate from ten percent to five percent per annum on not more than five hundred dollars of delinquent real property taxes "for a single year," as provided for by § 3, chapter 288, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., applies only to the first year of delinquency rather than to each year in which the subject taxes may have been delinquent.

(2) The five percent interest rate thus provided for by § 3, chapter 288, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., is to be applied against not more than five hundred dollars of the combined total amount of all delinquent taxes which have been imposed for a single year on all real property owned by the same taxpayer in a given county.

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                                                                   March 1, 1972

Honorable E. R. Whitmore, Jr.
Prosecuting Attorney
Chelan County Court House
Wenatchee, Washington 98801

                                                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 1972 No. 8

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office upon two questions relating to the rate of interest payable on delinquent property taxes under RCW 84.56.020, as amended by § 3, chapter 288, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            (1) Does the amendment's reduction in the interest rate from ten percent to five percent per annum on not more than five hundred dollars of delinquent real property taxes "for a single year" apply to each year in which such taxes may be delinquent, or is this lesser rate to be charged only for the first year of delinquency?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) Is this five percent interest rate to be applied separately against each parcel of real property owned by the same taxpayer in a given county, or is this rate instead to be applied against not more than five hundred dollars of the combined total amount of all delinquent taxes which have been imposed for a single year on all real property which the particular taxpayer owns within the county?

            The answers to your questions are contained in the following analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Your questions arise because of § 3, chapter 288, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., by which the legislature has reduced the interest rate to be charged on a portion of certain delinquent real property taxes.  This section, which became effective on May 21, 1971, amended RCW 84.56.020 so as to read (in material part) as follows:

            "the county treasurer shall be the receiver and collector of all taxes extended upon the tax rolls of the county, whether levied for state, county, school, bridge, road, municipal or other purposes, and also of all fines, forfeitures or penalties received by any person or officer for the use of his county.  All taxes upon real and personal property made payable by the provisions of this title shall be due and payable to the treasurer as aforesaid on or before the thirtieth day of April in each year, after which date they shall become delinquent, and interest at the rate of five percent per annum on not more than five hundred dollars of delinquent taxes on real property for a single year in any county shall be charged and interest at the rate of ten percent per annum shall be charged upon the balance of such unpaid taxes and upon unpaid personal property taxes from the date of delinquency until paid: . . ."  (Amendatory language underscored.)

            We earlier concluded in AGO 1971 No. 22 [[to Ted Bottiger, State Representative on July 28, 1971]], that this reduced interest rate applies to taxes which were delinquent prior to  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] the effective date of the amendment as well as to taxes becoming delinquent thereafter; however, we did not address ourselves in that opinion to the questions which you have now raised.  In order to understand the operation of the amendment in the context of such already delinquent taxes, it is necessary to note, first, certain basic principles regarding real property taxes in this state.

            A tax is levied every year against each parcel of taxable real property and becomes due the year following the year of levy.  If not timely paid, it becomes delinquent and can remain delinquent for as long as five years.1/   However, the amount of each annual tax remains constant throughout its period of delinquency because the interest imposed is not part of the tax and is not computed until tender of payment.  See,Henry v. McKay, 164 Wash. 526, 3 P.2d 145 (1931).  For example (ignoring those provisions of RCW 84.56.020, supra, which permit the payment of a tax of over ten dollars in two installments) let us assume 1968 tax2/ which was not paid when due and is not to be paid until April 30, 1972.  This tax became delinquent on May 1, 1968,3/ so when finally paid this year it will have been delinquent four years.  Accordingly, when it is paid there must also then be paid a penalty in the form of interest for the total period of delinquency.4/

             Question (1):

            With this background in mind, we turn to your first question ‑  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] the answer to which depends upon the meaning of the phrase "for a single year" as used in the subject 1971 amendment.  Is the lesser interest rate of five percent therein provided for to be applied toeach year of delinquency or is it to be charged for only the first year thereof?

            For ease of reference we repeat the material part of RCW 84.56.020, as amended by § 3, chapter 288, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess.:

            ". . . interest at the rate of five percent per annum on not more than five hundred dollars of delinquent taxes on real property for a single year in any county shall be charged . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In construing statutory language the words used by the legislature are to be given their usual, ordinary, commonly accepted meaning, In re Adoption of Lybbert, 75 Wn.2d 671, 453 P.2d 650 (1969);Foremost Dairies v. State Tax Comm'n., 75 Wn.2d 758, 453 P.2d 870 (1969), and the word "single" has a definite and commonly accepted meaning.  Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1961) defines "single" as "one only" or "one alone."  Thus, the statute on its face appears to mean that ". . . interest at the rate of five percent per annum on not more than five hundred dollars of delinquent taxes on real property for [only one] year in any county shall be charged . . ."

            To find an intent to make the lesser interest rate apply to each year of delinquency, it would be necessary to change the commonly accepted meaning of the phrase "for a single year" by rewriting it through the addition or the substitution of words giving the phrase a different connotation.  This, of course, would violate other basic rules of statutory construction, seeState ex rel. Hagan v. Chinook Hotel, 65 Wn.2d 573, 399 P.2d 8 (1965).

            A further reason for interpreting the amendment so as to limit the reduced interest rate to the first year of delinquency is found when we consider the effect of omitting "for a single year" from the statute in its entirety.  Without this phrase the statute would then have provided that ". . . interest at the rate of five percent per annum on not more than five hundred dollars of delinquent taxes on real property . . . in any county shall be charged . . . from the date of delinquency until paid."  Since we are dealing with a tax which is levied  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] for a given year in a specific amount, it will thus be seen that without the phrase "for a single year" the lower, five percent per annum rate of interest would be charged on the first five hundred dollars of that tax for the entire period of delinquency or for each and every year thereof ‑ the converse of the result indicated by the statute on its face.  However, the legislature has included the questioned phrase and we cannot ignore it.  Courts are obligated to give effect to all of the words of a statute and, wherever possible, to construe it so that no clause, sentence or word is rendered superfluous, void or insignificant, Kasper v. Edmonds, 69 Wn.2d 799, 420 P.2d 346 (1966);State v. Jestes, 75 Wn.2d 47, 448 P.2d 917 (1968).

            In direct answer to your first question we conclude, therefore, that the subject 1971 amendment to RCW 84.56.020, supra, requires a taxpayer, when paying a delinquent tax imposed on real property in any year, also to pay an interest penalty computed at the rate of five percent per annum upon the first five hundred dollars of such tax for not more than one year of delinquency.  For any amount in excess of five hundred dollars for that one year and, in addition, for all other years of delinquency he must pay interest at the rate of ten percent per annum.5/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]   Question (2):

            Your second question involves the situation of a taxpayer who owns several separate parcels of taxable real property within the same county and who has allowed the taxes thereon to become delinquent.  Query:  Is the lower (five percent) interest rate discussed above to be applied separately against each of these parcels ‑ or is it instead to be applied against not more than five hundred dollars of the combined total amount of all delinquent taxes which have been imposed for a single year on all real property owned by the particular taxpayer within each county?

            Referring back to the pertinent language of the amended statute as quoted above, it will be seen that the legislature has qualified the phrase "delinquent taxes on real property" in only two respects ‑ in so far as the application of the lower interest rate is concerned.  First, as above discussed, because of the qualifying phrase "for a single year" this special rate applies only for the first year of delinquency.  Secondly, because of the language "in any county" the statute (in apparent recognition that property taxes are levied and collected on a county-by-county basis)6/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

segregates that property in one county to which the lower rate applies from similar property owned by the same taxpayer in other counties.

            However, to conclude that this lower rate is to be applied separately to each parcel of realty owned by the same taxpayer within a single county would be to read into the statute a third qualifying phrase nowhere appearing therein ‑ a phrase which would cause the statute to read as follows:

            ". . . interest at the rate of five percent per annum on not more than five hundred dollars of delinquent taxes on each separate parcel of real property for a single year in any county shall be charged and interest at the rate of ten percent per annum shall be charged upon the balance of such unpaid taxes and upon unpaid personal property taxes from the date of delinquency until paid . . ."

            Of course, we may no moreadd this language to the statute here than we couldsubtract the phrase "for a single year" earlier.  Accord,Vannoy v. Pacific Power & Light Co., 59 Wn.2d 623, 369 P.2d 848 (1962); andState ex rel. Hagan v. Chinook Hotel,supra.  We therefore conclude, in answer to your second question, that the lower, five percent, interest rate is simply to be applied against not more than five hundred dollars of the conbined total amount of all delinquent taxes which have been imposed for a single year on all real property owned by the same taxpayer within a given county.

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

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

HENRY W. WAGER
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/After remaining unpaid for five years the tax lien is to be foreclosed under chapter 84.64 RCW.

2/Under RCW 84.09.010 property taxes are known and are to be designated as taxes of the year in which they first become due and payable.

3/RCW 84.56.020 provides taxes are delinquent if not paid on or before April 30, in each year.

4/Current taxes, which cannot be paid prior to February 15, of each year (RCW 84.56.010), may be paid without payment of any tax which may be delinquent (RCW 84.56.060).

5/On August 17, 1971, the department of revenue, in Property Tax Bulletin No. 71-11, expressed this same conclusion.  We quote a portion thereof because it contains an example of how the interest is to be computed:

            "The interest rate on delinquent taxes is to be computed as follows:  5% is to be charged on the first $500 of delinquent taxes for the first year that the taxes were delinquent, 10% is to be applied to the balance of the delinquent taxes.  This is to be done when computing interest for each of the several tax years for which taxes are delinquent.

            "For example a person having delinquent property taxes for 1969 and 1970 and paying those taxes on April 30, 1971, and paying his 1971 taxes on October 31, 1971, the interest shall be computed as follows:

Year ofAmount            Date of[Year of                       Interest

Tax                 of Tax  Payment           Delinquency]    Computation

 

1969                $700                4-30-71           1969-70                       $500 at 5% =               $25.00

                                                                                                            $200 at 10% =             20.00

                                                                        1970-71                       $700 at 10% =             70.00

 

                                                                        Total Interest    ....................................... $115. 00

 

1970    $900   4-30-71           1970-71                       $500 at 5% =               $ 25. 00

                                                                                                            $400 at 10% =             40. 00

 

                                                                        Total Interest Due         ............................ $ 65. 00

 

1971                $950                10-31-71                                             $500 at 5% X 6 months=

                                                                                                                                                $ 12. 50

                                                                                                            $450 at 10% X 6 months=

                                                                                                                                                $ 22. 50

 

                                                                        Total Interest Due         ............................ $ 35.00"

 

6/See, generally, chapters 84.52 and 84.56 RCW.

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