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AGO 1961 No. 64 - September 20, 1961
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


TAXATION ‑- REAL PROPERTY ‑- AUTHORITY OF COUNTY OFFICIALS TO REFUND LAST HALF OF TAX WHERE PROPERTY IS ACQUIRED BY PURCHASE OR CONDEMNATION.

The county, acting through its board of county commissioners or other official, is not legally authorized to refund the last half of a real property tax which was paid for the entire year prior to April 30, when the property is acquired by purchase or condemnation by the state of Washington or any of its political subdivisions prior to that date.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                              September 20, 1961

Honorable Charles O. Carroll
Prosecuting Attorney
King County
County City Building
Seattle 4, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 64

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested an opinion of this office on the following question:

            May a county through its board of commissioners or other officials legally refund the last half of a property owner's taxes which are paid for an entire year prior to April 30 when the property is acquired by purchase or condemnation by the state of Washington or any of its political subdivisions prior to the same date?

            We answer your question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Property taxes are due and payable on or before the 30th of April of the year following the levy of such taxes (RCW 84.56.020); however, any tax of ten dollars or more may be paid in two installments, the first half before April 30 and the second half before October 31 (RCW 84.56.020).  Also, except for certain cases not relevant here, property taxes may not be paid prior to February 15 of such year (RCW 84.56.010).

            We are therefore concerned with a situation in which property taxes for the whole year have been paid during the period between February 15 and April 30, and the property has been acquired by the state or a municipal corporation during this same period.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            The problem in such a situation arises out of the provisions of RCW 84.60.060, which relate to the effect of acquisition of real property by the state or a municipal corporation and which provide as follows:

            "Where any of the taxes on real property so acquired by purchase or condemnation are payable but not delinquent at the date of completion of the sale, date of condemnation verdict, or date of judgment if not tried to a jury, the lien for taxes payable but not delinquent shall be for only one‑half of the taxes so payable if the property is so acquired between February 15th and April 30th of the year in which such taxes become payable.  If such property is so acquired after April 30th of the year in which such taxes are payable, the lien shall be for the full amount of the taxes payable.  If such property is so acquired prior to February 15th of the year in which such taxes become payable, no tax lien for such taxes on such property shall be valid against the state or any of its political subdivisions, and any such taxes levied but not payable shall be canceled as provided in RCW 84.56.400.

            "The amount constituting a tax lien on real property acquired as provided in RCW 84.60.050 through 84.60.070 shall be withheld from the purchase price or condemnation award by the public body acquiring the property and shall be paid immediately to the county treasurer in payment and discharge of such lien, except as otherwise provided in RCW 84.60.070."

            It seems clear from RCW 84.60.060, supra, that if no taxes had been paid prior to the acquisition only half of the taxes payable would be collected, and this would be done by withholding the proper amount out of the purchase price or the condemnation award.  The question to be determined, therefore, is whether a refund of half of the taxes may be made by the county when payment in full has been made by the private owner prior to the acquisition.

            We find no statutory authority whereby the county may make such a refund.

            There are two sets of provisions authorizing county officers to make  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] refunds of property taxes without court action.  The first set is found in RCW 84.68.110 through 84.68.150; the second set is found in chapter 84.69 RCW.

            As to the first set, RCW 84.68.110 (chapter 15, Laws of 1961), gives the grounds for a refund in the following language:

            "Whenever a taxpayer believes or has reason to believe that, through error in description, double assessments, or manifest errors in assessment which do not involve a revaluation of the property, he has been erroneously assessed or that a tax has been incorrectly extended against him upon the tax rolls, and the tax based upon such erroneous assessment or incorrect extension has been paid, such taxpayer may initiate a proceeding for the cancellation or reduction of the assessment of his property and the tax based thereon or for correction of the error in extending the tax on the tax rolls, and for the refund of the claimed erroneous tax or excessive portion thereof, by filing a petition therefor with the county assessor of the county in which the property is or was located or taxed, which petition shall legally describe the property, show the assessed valuation and tax placed against the property for the year or years in question and the taxpayer's reasons for believing that there was an error in the assessment within the meaning of RCW 84.68.110 through 84.68.150, or in extending the tax upon the tax rolls and set forth the sum to which the taxpayer desires to have the assessment reduced or the extended tax corrected."

            However, in the situation with which we are here concerned, there have been no errors in description, double assessments, or manifest errors in assessment.  Acquisition of property by the state or a municipal corporation can hardly make erroneous those parts of the taxing process which had taken place prior to this acquisition, when the property was in private ownership, and which were then clearly correct.

            As to the second set, RCW 84.69.020 provides as follows:

            "On order of the board of county commissioners ad valorem taxes paid before or after delinquency shall be refunded if they were:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "(1) Paid more than once; or

            "(2) Paid as a result of manifest error in description; or

            "(3) Paid as a result of a clerical error in extending the tax rolls; or

            "(4) Paid as a result of other clerical errors in listing property; or

            "(5) Paid with respect to improvements which did not exist on assessment date; or

            "(6) Paid under levies or statutes adjudicated to be illegal or unconstitutional.

            "No refunds under the provisions of this section shall be made because of any error in determining the valuation of property."

            Again, we find that none of the grounds enumerated is applicable to this situation.  The first five grounds, like the grounds in RCW 84.68.110, supra, refer to conditions existing prior to or at the time of payment; no such conditions have existed in this situation.  It should be noted that there would be a double payment of taxes for the first half of the year if part of the condemnation award and purchase price were withheld for payment of taxes.  However, we assume that this would not be done, in view of the fact that all taxes have already been paid and the withholding would be unnecessary.  Also, no illegal levy or unconstitutional statute is here involved.

            It might seem that the conclusion reached here results in an inequity to the taxpayer who pays a full year's taxes and does not wait to pay the second half of the taxes.  However, it should be noted that, as a practical matter, a taxpayer can easily guard against this result, for he is likely to know for a considerable time prior to the actual acquisition by purchase or condemnation that his property may be so acquired; and he can pay just half of the taxes before the April 30 deadline and thus obviate the problem discussed here.

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

TIMOTHY R. MALONE
Assistant Attorney General

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