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AGO 1961 No. 70 - October 09, 1961
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY TREASURER ‑- AUTHORITY TO COLLECT ASSESSMENT ROLL SERVICE CHARGE UNDER § 1, CHAPTER 270, LAWS OF 1961.

A county treasurer, under § 1, chapter 270, Laws of 1961, may not charge or collect fees from local port districts and public hospital districts for taxes collected under current annual levies.  The authority granted the treasurer under the new law applies only in the case of special assessments.

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                                                                 October 9, 1961

Honorable Patrick McCabe
Prosecuting Attorney
Garfield County
Pomeroy, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 70

Dear Sir:

            By letter, previously acknowledged, you have requested the opinion of this office to clarify § 1, chapter 270, Laws of 1961, in several particulars as follows:

            "1. May the treasurer collect fees from the local port district and public hospital district for taxes collected under current, annual levies?

            "2. If permitted to collect such fees, which of the schedule of fees is applicable?

            "3. If permitted to collect such fees, are the same to be collected annually?

            "4. Does the word 'account' in the schedule of fees mean each taxpayer account?

            "5. In cases where there is a special levy for a fixed period of years, is the fee to be collected annually or is one fee only collectible for the entire period?"

            We answer your first question in the negative and therefore answers to your remaining questions are unnecessary.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 1, chapter 270, Laws of 1961, reads as follows:

            "The county treasurer, in all instances where required by law to handle, collect, disburse and account for the funds collected pursuant to the assessment roll of any political subdivision within the county, may charge and collect a fee for his services according to but not to exceed the following schedule:

            "For up to a five year term assessment roll, a fee of two dollars per account;

            "For a six to ten year term assessment roll, a fee of three dollars per account;

            "For an eleven to fifteen year term assessment roll, a fee of four dollars per account;

            "For an assessment roll of over fifteen years, a fee of five dollars per account.

            "Such fees shall be a charge against the district, shall be included as a part of the cost of the improvement, and shall be credited to the county current expense fund by the county treasurer from moneys received following publication of the assessment roll.  The provisions of this section shall not apply to irrigation district assessments."

            Section 2 of the same chapter is applicable to refunds ordered with respect to taxing districts, providing for payment of administrative costs incurred by the county treasurer in making refunds of taxes paid under levies or statutes adjudicated to be illegal or unconstitutional.

            The present problem exists by reason of the familiar distinction between assessments for taxation, and special assessments for local improvements initiated by a municipality.  See Article VII, § 9, Washington State Constitution; also, Smith v. Seattle, 25 Wash. 300, 65 Pac. 612 (1901).

            The county treasurer is, and has been since prior to 1900, the ex officio collector of city taxes.  See RCW 36.29.100 through RCW 36.29.150.  Since 1925 he has been charged with the duty of collecting all taxes extended upon the tax rolls of the county, including taxes for  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] municipal purposes.  See chapter 130, Laws of 1925, Ex. Sess., particularly § 83 thereof; and RCW 84.52.010 and RCW 84.56.020.

            In addition, the county treasurer is charged by law with the duty of collecting special assessments imposed by certain classes of municipalities, for local improvements initiated by those municipalities.  See, for example, RCW 36.29.160, pertaining to assessments by public utility districts, sewer districts, water districts, and others; RCW 36.69.200 (same ‑ recreation districts); RCW 53.08.050 (same ‑ port districts).

            The problem is one of statutory construction, because of the legislature's use of the term "assessment roll," designating the final listing which is to be used by the county treasurer as the basis for charging and collecting his fee, in § 1, supra.  The term is ambiguous.  It is used most frequently in taxation to describe "The list or roll of taxable persons and property, completed, verified and deposited by the assessors,not as it appears after review and equalization."  (Emphasis supplied.)  Black's Law Dictionary, 4th edition.  The completed schedule or list of persons and property subject to the payment of a particular tax is generally termed the "tax roll."  See, chapter 84.56 RCW; also, Black's Law Dictionary, supra, "Tax roll."  However, in some instances the legislature of this state has used the two terms synonymously.  See, for example, RCW 84.56.010 and 84.56.260.

            On the other hand, the most universal use of the term "assessment roll" by our legislature, as signifying a final, completed listing of persons and property for purposes of collection, is found in statutes pertaining to special assessments for local improvements.  See, for instance, chapters 35.33 through 35.56 RCW (applicable to local improvements ‑ cities and towns); RCW 36.69.280 (same ‑ recreation districts); chapter 53.20 RCW (harbor improvements ‑ port districts); RCW 54.16.120 ‑ 54.16.170 (local improvements ‑ public utility districts); chapters 56.20 and 57.16 RCW (same ‑ sewer districts and water districts respectively); and others.

            The only object of statutory construction is to ascertain the meaning and intention of the legislature, and such intention, when discovered, is controlling.  Cory v. Nethery, 19 Wn. (2d) 326, 142 P. (2d) 488 (1943).

            In arriving at legislative intent, the first resort of a court is to the context and subject matter of the legislation because the intention of the lawmakers is to be deduced, if possible, from the words used.  Hatzenbuhler v. Harrison, 49 Wn. (2d) 691, 306 P. (2d) 745 (1957);Guinness v. State, 40 Wn. (2d) 677, 246 P. (2d) 433 (1952).

            The members of the legislature are presumed to know the meaning of the words they write into their enactments.  Union Oil Co. v. State, 2 Wn. (2d) 436, 98 P. (2d) 660 (1940).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Statutory words must be given their usual and ordinary meaning.  Miller v. Pasco, 50 Wn. (2d) 229, 310 P. (2d) 863 (1957).

            In construing a statute, the legislative intent must be gleaned from a consideration of the whole act giving effect to the entire statute and every part thereof.  State v. Houck, 32 Wn. (2d) 681, 203 P. (2d) 693 (1949).

            The legislature is presumed to have full knowledge of existing statutes, together with the rules of statutory construction.  See,State ex rel. Gebhardt v. Superior Court, 15 Wn. (2d) 673, 131 P. (2d) 943 (1942);State v. Thornbury, 190 Wash. 549, 69 P. (2d) 815 (1937);Benn v. Grays Harbor County, 102 Wash. 620, 173 Pac. 632 (1918).

            Viewing the statute under consideration in its entirety, and in the light of the applicable rules of statutory construction, we conclude that the legislature intended § 1,supra, to apply only to the collection of special assessments (as for local improvements), rather than the collection of general taxes, or "taxes collected under current, annual levies" as your question puts it.

            The first indication of legislative intent is found, as noted above, in the legislature's use of the term "assessment roll," rather than "tax roll" as the basis upon which the county treasurer is to charge and collect his fee.  There are other terms of reference in the same section, which are applicable to special assessments for local improvements, rather than taxes.

            As one example, the term "assessment roll" is followed by the modifying phrase "of any political subdivision."  If used in connection with tax assessments, the term of reference would be inaccurate.  There is only one assessment roll for tax purposes, prepared by the county assessor, covering all taxable property in the county; not several assessment rolls for the various political subdivisions.  See, chapters 84.40 and 84.52 RCW.  On the other hand, there is obviously contemplated a separate assessment roll for any local improvement initiated by a political subdivision, and funded by special assessments on property benefited.  See, for instance, chapter 35.44 RCW; RCW 36.69.270 (applicable to recreation districts); RCW 53.08.050,supra; RCW 54.16.150 (applicable to public utility districts); RCW 56.20.030 (sewer districts); and RCW 57.16.060 (water districts).  This distinction would serve as a practical reason for a legislative intention to permit the county treasurer to charge a fee for collecting the various special assessments imposed by political subdivisions as distinguished from his ordinary function in collecting taxes.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            The second important term of reference is the "schedule" set by the legislature in § 1,supra, as the basis for the county treasurer charging his fee.  It will be noted that each dollar amount specified is based upon an assessment roll measured by a term of years, each dollar amount increasing proportionately with the designated term of years the assessment roll is to cover.  As a general rule, under existing state law, taxes are levied on an annual basis rather than on a multiple‑year term.  See RCW 84.52.020 and 84.52.030.  On the other hand, statutes relative to assessments for local improvements generally provide authority for collection of the same in installments over periods of years.  See RCW 36.69.200 (recreation districts); RCW 53.08.050, supra; chapters 35.49 and 35.50 RCW (first class city procedures applicable to P.U.D.'s ‑ RCW 54.16.130); RCW 56.20.010 and 57.16.050 (sewer districts and water districts respectively).

            Finally in the last paragraph of § 1, supra, the legislature again uses terminology clearly applicable to assessments for local improvements, rather than taxation.  The paragraph reads in pertinent part that "Such fees shall be a charge against the district,shall be included as a part of the cost of the improvement. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            No such provision appears to be applicable to assessments or levies for tax purposes.

            From the foregoing analysis we can only conclude that the legislature in enacting § 1,supra, had in mind special assessments (as for local improvements) as distinguished from taxes, and intended to authorize a charge for the county treasurer's services only with regard to such special assessments.  The answer to your first question is, therefore, in the negative.

            Since your remaining questions assume an affirmative answer to the first question, they need not be considered herein.

            We trust that this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT F. HAUTH
Assistant Attorney General

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