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AGO 1984 No. 1 - January 12, 1984
AGO Opinion Header Image
Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- WEED ‑- TAXATION ‑- ASSESSMENTS ‑- COUNTIES ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- APPLICABILITY OF WEED DISTRICT ASSESSMENTS TO CERTAIN CITY-OWNED LAND 

Lands which are owned by an incorporated city or town (including but not limited to those situated outside the corporate limits of that municipality) are not subject to weed district assessments imposed pursuant to RCW 17.04.240. 

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

                                                                 January 12, 1984 

Honorable Paul Klasen
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County
P.O. Box 37
Ephrata, WA 98823

Cite as:  AGO 1984 No. 1                                                                                                               

 Dear Sir:

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

             Are lands owned by an incorporated city or town but situated outside the corporate limits of that municipality subject to weed district assessments imposed pursuant to RCW 17.04.240,et seq.?

             We answer the foregoing question in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             The establishment of weed districts is provided for in chapter 17.04 RCW.  The authority of such districts to levy assessments for the purpose of funding their activities and operations is set forth in RCW 17.04.240 which reads as follows:

             "The directors shall annually determine the amount of money necessary to carry on the operations of the district and shall classify the property therein in proportion to the benefits to be derived from the operations of the district and in accordance with such classification shall prorate the cost so determined and shall levy assessments to be collected with the general  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] taxes of the county.  In the event that any bonded or warrant indebtedness pledging tax revenue of the district shall be outstanding on April 1, 1951, the directors may, for the sole purpose of retiring such indebtedness, continue to levy a tax upon all taxable property in the district until such bonded or warrant indebtedness shall have been retired."

             There is, however, no reference in this statute to public land or private land, but only to property in general.  On the other hand, in RCW 17.04.180 we find the following specific reference to county and state lands:

             "Whenever there shall be included within any weed district any lands belonging to the county, the boards of county commissioners shall determine the amount of the taxes for which such lands would be liable if the same were in private ownership, and the county commissioners shall appropriate from the current expense fund of the county sufficient money to pay such amounts.  Whenever any state lands shall be located within any weed district the county treasurer shall certify annually and forward to the commissioner of public lands, or, if the lands are occupied by or used in connection with any state institution, to the secretary of social and health services, or if the land is under use as state highway right of way, to the director of highways, a statement showing the amount of the tax to which such lands would be liable if the same were in private ownership, separately describing each lot or parcel, and the commissioner of public lands, or the secretary of social and health services, or the director of highways, as the case may be, shall cause a proper record to be made in their respective offices of the charges against such lands, and shall certify the same to the state auditor thirty days previous to the convening of the biennial session of the legislature, and the state auditor shall, at the next session of the legislature thereafter certify to the legislature the amount of such charges against such lands, and the legislature shall provide for payment of such charges to the weed district by an appropriation out of the general fund of the state treasury or in the case of state highway right of way, the motor vehicle fund of the state treasury, with interest at six percent per annum on the amount of such charges, and without penalties."

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Also to be noted is RCW 17.04.160 which reads as follows:

             "Any city or town contiguous to or surrounded by a weed district formed under this chapter shall provide for the destruction, prevention and extermination of all weeds specified in the petition which are within the boundaries of such city or town, in the same manner and to the same extent as is provided for in such surrounding or contiguous weed district; and it shall be the duty of those in charge of school grounds, playgrounds, cemeteries, parks, or any lands of a public or quasi public nature when such lands shall be contiguous to, or within any weed district, to see that all weeds specified in the petition for the creation of such district are destroyed, prevented and exterminated in accordance with the rules and requirements of such district."

             This statute addresses all land within the boundaries of a city or town and other lands of a public or quasi public nature which are continguous [contiguous] to, or within, a weed district.  Your inquiry, however, relates to city-owned land located outside of the city's boundaries.

             From the above‑quoted statutes it will be seen that the authority of a weed district to impose its assessments on lands owned by an incorporated city or town (regardless of where located) is neither (a) expressly included within nor (b) expressly excluded from the statutes.  Nor, for that matter, is there anyexpress exemption of county or state lands‑-at least in the sense of anything in RCW 17.04.240, supra, which says that state or county lands are not subject to weed district assessments.  Yet, quite obviously, those two classes of public lands are not subject to such assessments for, otherwise, RCW 17.04.180,supra, would make no sense.

             If we were here concerned withad valorem property taxes rather than benefit-related assessments, the answer would be clear in all three situations;i.e., state, county and city-owned lands.  That is so because, in plain and simple words, Article VII, § 1 (Amendment 14) of our state constitution provides, in pertinent part, that:

             ". . . Property of the United States and of the state, counties, school districts and other municipal corporations, . . . shall be exempt from taxation. . . ."

              [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            But, in this instance, we are not dealing with ad valorem property taxes.  Indeed, in the words of our State Supreme Court, ". . . there is a vast distinction between general taxes and levies for improvement of specific property."  State v. Human Relations Research Foundation, 64 Wn.2d 262, 267, 391 P.2d 513 (1964).  And, according toIn Re Howard Avenue North, 44 Wash. 62, 66, 86 Pac. 1117 (1906), the word "taxation" for purposes of the constitutional exemption,

             ". . . does not include special assessments of the character [there] . . . involved [i.e., a local school improvement assessment on school district property].  The law is well settled that exemption from taxation does not mean exemption from special assessments. . . ."

             Nevertheless, even though benefit-related assessments are not subject to that constitutional exemption regarding public lands, it is certainly within the power of the legislature to grant such lands a similar exemption from those assessments.  Cf., RCW 17.04.180,supra, which impliedly does so in the case of state and county lands.  The only difference is that, at this level, the question is one of legislative intent rather than constitutional necessity.

             This all leads us, ultimately, to a section of chapter 17.04 RCW not previously cited.  We have reference to RCW 17.04.245, codifying § 1, chapter 6, Laws of 1951, 1st Ex. Sess., which contains an internal reference to RCW 17.04.240,supra, and reads as follows:

             "Such assessments as are made under the provisions of RCW 17.04.240, by the weed district commissioners, shall be spread by the county assessor on the general tax roll in a separate item.  Such assessments shall be collected and accounted for with the general taxes, with the terms and penalties thereto attached."

             What this statute says, as we read it, is that weed district assessments are to be dealt with as if they were general property taxes.  They are to be ". . . spread by the county assessor on the general tax roll. . ." and then they are to be ". . . collected and accounted for with the general taxes."  But, in turn, where lands are exempt from general, ad valorem, property taxation under Article VII, § 1 (Amendment 14),supra, there simply are no resulting "general taxes" to be collected and accounted for‑-as in the case of public lands.  And, presumably, our legislature was  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] fully aware of that when it enacted RCW 17.04.245, supra.

             Indeed, it is interesting to note that the current version of RCW 17.04.240, authorizing weed districts to impose benefit-related assessments, stems from § 1, chapter 107, Laws of 1951; cf., § 2, chapter 13, Laws of 1957.  In turn RCW 17.04.245, which says that those assessments are to be spread on the general tax roll as a separate item and collected and accounted for with general taxes, stems from § 1, chapter 6, Laws of 1951, 1st Ex. Sess.

             Prior to the enactment of those 1951 provisions, weed districts were actually supported by general taxes, per se.  See, § 5, chapter 125, Laws of 1929.  As a consequence of Wash. Const., Art. VII, § 1 (Amendment 14), however, those general taxes could not be imposed on state, county or city-owned property.  Cf., RCW 17.04.180 which stems from § 8, chapter 125, Laws of 1929 and provides for payments "in lieu of taxes" by the state and county with respect to state or county lands situated within a weed district.  In other words, that provision made perfect sense when it was first enacted by the 1929 legislature.

             We next note, as well, that RCW 17.04.160‑-relating to city-owned lands‑-was also a part of the same 1929 act; see, § 6, chapter 125, Laws of 1929.  We would assume that this different treatment was given by the legislature to city-owned lands because it was not anticipated, at the time, that city-owned lands would actually be situated within a weed district.  Cities themselves, by clear implication of that section of the law, would not be "within" weed districts although they might be either contiguous to, or surrounded by, such a district.  The legislature simply gave no thought to the possibility of city ownership of land outside of the territorial boundaries of a city‑-and, thus, possibly within a weed district even though the city itself was not within the district.  However, again, if the legislature had thought of that possibility‑-or, indeed, if such a situation actually existed‑-the result (during the period from 1929 until 1951) would have to have been that of tax exemption, of constitutional necessity.

             What the 1951 legislature did, then, was to change the revenue source from a general tax into a benefit-related assessment.  But, nevertheless, it said that this assessment was to be spread on the general tax roll and then collected and accounted for with the general taxes.

 Quaere:  Is it reasonable, under those historical circumstances, to attribute to the 1951 legislature anintent to  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] cause those city-owned lands within a weed district which were previously exempt from weed district general taxes thereafter to become subject, instead, to weed district benefit-related assessments?

             We think not.  Instead, it seems far more logical to conclude, on the basis of this legislative history, that the present case represents an instance of legislative intent that only those lands which are subject to general taxation should also be subject to benefit-related assessments by (in this case) weed districts.  Such a conclusion is entirely consistent, of course, with RCW 17.04.180, supra, in the case of state or county-owned lands.  And it is in no way inconsistent with RCW 17.04.160,supra, regarding city-owned lands or other public or quasi public lands within, or contiguous to, a weed district.

             Accordingly, we believe that your question, as above stated, should properly be answered in the negative.  We conclude that lands owned by an incorporated city or town (including but not limited to those situated outside the corporate limits of that municipality) are not subject to weed district assessments imposed pursuant to RCW 17.04.240.

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

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Senior Deputy Attorney General 

FRANK L. MILLER
Assistant Attorney General

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