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AGO 1973 No. 16 - July 17, 1973
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- BOARD OF EQUALIZATION ‑- TAXATION ‑- JURISDICTION OF COUNTY BOARD OF EQUALIZATION TO INCREASE PROPERTY TAX VALUATION WITHOUT NOTICE

A voluntary appearance by a taxpayer before a county board of equalization, when made pursuant to RCW 84.48.010 for the sole purpose of seeking a reduction in the assessed valuation of a certain parcel of real property, does not give the board jurisdiction to increase the valuation of the subject property without advance notice.

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                                                                    July 17, 1973

Honorable Mike Parker
State Representative, 29th District
5434 South "I"
Tacoma, Washington 98408

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1973 No. 16
Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on the question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Does a voluntary appearance by a taxpayer before a county board of equalization, when made pursuant to RCW 84.48.010 for the sole purpose of seeking a reduction in the assessed valuation of a certain parcel of real property, give the board jurisdiction to increase the valuation of the subject property without advance notice?

            We answer this question in the negative for the reasons herein set forth.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The statutory provision brought under scrutiny by your inquiry provides for the formation of boards of equalization in each county for the purpose of reviewing the county assessor's assessments of taxable property situated therein.  This provision, RCW 84.48.010 reads in pertinent part as follows:

            "Prior to July 1st, the county commissioners shall form a board for the equalization of the assessment of the property of the county. . . .

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            The board of equalization shall meet in open session for this purpose annually on the first Monday in July and, having each taken an oath fairly and impartially to perform their duties as members of such board, they shall examine and compare the returns of the assessment of the property of the county and proceed to equalize the same, so that each tract or lot of real property and each article or class of personal property shall be entered on the assessment list at its true and fair value, according to the measure of value used by the county assessor in such assessment year, and subject to the following rules: . . ."

            The statute then goes on to state the rules by which a county board of equalization is to be governed in its performance of this function, as follows:

            "First.  They shall raise the valuation of each tract or lot or item of real property which in their opinion is returned below its true and fair value to such price or sum as they believe to be the true and fair value thereof, after at least five days' notice shall have been given in writing to the owner or agent.

            "Second.  They shall reduce the valuation of each tract or lot or item which in their opinion is returned above its true and fair value to such price or sum as they believe to be the true and fair value thereof.

            "Third.  They shall raise the valuation of each class of personal property which in their opinion is returned below its true and fair value to such price or sum as they believe to be the true and fair value thereof, and they shall raise the aggregate value of the personal property of each individual whenever they believe that such aggregate value is less than the true valuation of the taxable personal property possessed by such individual, to such sum or amount as they believe to be the true value thereof, after at least five days' notice shall have been given in writing to the owner or agent thereof.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "Fourth.  They shall, upon complaint in writing of any party aggrieved, reduce the valuation of each class of personal property enumerated on the detail and assessment list of the current year, which in their opinion is returned above its true and fair value, to such price or sum as they believe to be the true and fair value thereof; and, upon like complaint, they shall reduce the aggregate valuation of the personal property of such individual who, in their opinion, has been assessed at too large a sum, to such sum or amount as they believe was the true and fair value of his personal property.

            ". . ."

            Your question, as we understand it, is whether a county board of equalization may, in a case where a taxpayer has voluntarily sought reduction under the second of these rules, make an upward adjustment in valuation in the same proceeding without affording the five days' notice specified in the first rule.  In posing this question you have made reference to the early case of Byram v. Thurston County, 141 Wash. 28, 251 Pac. 103 (1926).

            We have thoroughly examined the court's decision in that case, and have searched for subsequent authorities also bearing on this question.  Having done so, we are of the opinion that it is, by analogy, here controlling.  The statutory provision there under consideration (Pierce Code § 7078), provided as follows:

            "The assessment rolls of railroad companies, shall, by said Board of Tax Commissioners, be submitted to the State Board of Equalization at its annual meeting held for the purpose of equalizing the assessed valuation of the taxable property of the state; and any railroad company interested shall have the right to appear and be heard as to the assessment of the property of such company, and as to the value and assessment of the general property of the state, and the said Board of Equalization may, on application or of its own motion, correct the valuation or assessment of the property of such company, in such  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] manner as may in its judgment make the valuation thereof just and relatively equal with the valuation of the general property of the state.  The assessed valuation of the property of the railroad company as it appears on such rolls, shall not be increased without notice to the company, by registered letter, that such increase is contemplated, and fixing a time for a hearing in relation thereto,."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            After noting that the taxpayer in that case had voluntarily sought a reduction in the assessment of its property, and, after appearing before the state board of equalization, had been subjected, instead, to an increase in valuation of the subject property, the court said at 141 Wash. 41:

            "Rem. Comp. Stat., § 11169 [P.C. § 7078], after providing that the assessment rolls of railway companies shall be submitted to the state board of equalization at its annual meeting, then further provides that any railroad company interested shall have the right to appear and be heard as to the assessment of the property of such company, and as to the value and assessment of the general property of the state; and the board of equalization may, upon application, or by its own motion, correct the valuation or assessment of the property of such company in such manner as may, in its judgment, make the valuation thereof equal with the general valuations of the state.  It is then provided that the assessed valuation of the property of the railroad company as it appears on such rolls shall not be increased without notice to the company by registered letter that such increase is contemplated, and fixing a time for hearing in relation thereto.

            "It is true, that the railway company voluntarily appeared before the state board of equalization asking for a reduction of its assessment.  No notice was ever given it that the equalization committee ever contemplated increasing its assessment.  On the contrary, it had notified the company that, in case of any contemplated increase, notice would be given it.  That notice was not given.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            "Under the provisions of the sections of the statute cited, the state equalization committee, being a tribunal with special and limited powers, could acquire no jurisdiction except in the manner provided by statute.  Respondents had the right to appear before the equalization committee, asking for a reduction of its valuations.  It was not there under compulsory jurisdiction to answer to any attempt to increase its in valuations.  The facts in such case would undoubtedly differ very greatly.

            ". . .

            "We are convinced that the voluntary appearance of respondents before the board to obtain a reduction did not give the board jurisdiction to make an increase in the valuation of the property."

            Although it is, of course, true that the statute involved in theByram case pertained to the state board of equalization rather than (as here) a county board, and that it only pertained to appearances by railroad and telegraph companies, we think the court's reasoning to be equally applicable to the proceedings of a county board under RCW 84.48.010,supra.  Clearly, this latter statute contemplates in the first subpart thereof that a five‑day notice will be given in writing to the owner or agent shown on the assessment roles prior to any consideration of increase in the valuation of a tract of real property.  We note, too, that the two key rules presently contained in this statute have been continued forward virtually intact from the time that the Byram decision was rendered.  See § 68, chapter 130, Laws of 1925, Ex. Sess.  We are thus constrained to conclude that the contemporaneous interpretation of a substantially similar statute by the court in that case was viewed by the legislature to impart a desirable formula for the protection of unsuspecting taxpayers against unanticipated increases in value of their property.  The legislature is deemed to have knowledge of all supreme court decisions having a bearing on its legislation.  Miller v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 81 Wn.2d 302, 501 P.2d 1063 (1972).

            Although we are informed that in some instances, county boards of equalization may in the past have increased the valuation of taxable property in cases where the taxpayer had appeared voluntarily to have its assessed valuationreduced, we now advise you that, in our view, the proper procedure to be utilized by such boards is not to increase the valuation of any property in any such case without first giving at least  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] five days' notice to the owner or agent thereof.

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

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


THOMAS F. CARR
Assistant Attorney General

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