Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1984 No. 21 - August 21, 1984
AGO Opinion Header Image
Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

TAXATION ‑- PROPERTY ‑- ADMINISTRATIVE REFUND OF CERTAIN PROPERTY TAXES 

Except where the board of county commissioners acts on its own motion in some appropriate manner, a taxpayer may not be allowed an administrative refund of ad valorem property taxes under RCW 84.69.020, based upon a reduction of assessed valuation ordered by the board of tax appeals, where his or her claim for refund is not filed within three years after the payment of the taxes for which refund is sought.

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

                                                                 August 21, 1984 

Honorable Henry R. Dunn
Prosecuting Attorney
Cowlitz County
Hall of Justice
312 South First Avenue West
Kelso, WA 98626

Cite as:  AGO 1984 No. 21                                                                                                                

 Dear Sir:

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

             Except in cases wherein the board of county commissioners acts on its own motion, may a taxpayer be allowed an administrative refund of ad valorem property taxes based on a reduction of assessed valuation ordered by the Board of Tax Appeals (as provided for in RCW 84.69.020(10)) where his or her claim for refund is filed more than three years after payment of the taxes for which the refund is sought?

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

                                                                      ANALYSIS

             By its enactment of chapter 120, Laws of 1957, now codified (with subsequent amendments) as chapter 84.69 RCW, the legislature established an administrative procedure for the refund of ad valorem property taxes which were erroneously assessed and paid, either as the result of clerical or procedural error or by reason  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of an illegal or unconstitutional levy.  The originally-stated grounds for such a refund will now be found in RCW 84.69.020(1)-(6).  Significantly, however, that (1957) legislation expressly prohibited any refund based on an error in valuation.  See, § 2, chapter 120,supra.  Instead, in those instances an aggrieved taxpayer would continue to have to resort to an action in the superior court for a refund of taxes under RCW 84.68.020.  And such action, then as now, would have to be instituted no later than June 30 following the year in which the taxes became payable.

             Then, in 1969, RCW 84.69.020 was amended to include what is now subsection (10).  See, § 1, chapter 224, Laws of 1969, 1st Ex. Sess.  Set forth in context with the opening paragraph of the statute, that portion of the statute now reads as follows:

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

             ". . .

             "(10) Paid on the basis of an assessed valuation which was appealed to the state board of tax appeals and ordered reduced by the board:  PROVIDED, That the amount refunded under subsections (9) and (10) shall only be for the difference between the tax paid on the basis of the appealed valuation and the tax payable on the valuation adjusted in accordance with the board's order; or

             ". . ."

             The other section of the law here to be noted is RCW 84.69.030 which codifies § 3, chapter 120, Laws of 1957, supra, and reads as follows:

             "Except in cases wherein the board of county commissioners acts upon its own motion, no orders for a refund under this chapter shall be made exept [except] on a claim:

             "(1) Verified by the person who paid the tax, his guardian, executor or administrator; and

             "(2)Filed within three years after making of the payment sought to be refunded; and

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "(3) Stating the statutory ground upon which the refund is claimed."  (Emphasis supplied)

            For whatever reason, that section of the law was not correspondingly amended in 1969 when subsection (10), supra, was added to RCW 84.69.020.  Yet, as your letter notes, there may indeed be cases where the Board of Tax Appeals has not finally acted on an overvaluation claim within three years of the payment of the contested tax.

             There is, as we read it, nothing in RCW 84.69.020 which would necessarily bar a taxpayer from filing a subsection (10) claim for refund with the board of county commissioners prior to expiration of the three‑year period specified in RCW 84.69.030in anticipation of a reduction in valuation by the Board of Tax Appeals.  And, while the board of county commissioners would not be precluded from rejecting such a claim as premature it would, likewise, not be immediately required to act upon the claim at all.  In addition we also note, as a practical matter, that a taxpayer anticipating a further appeal of an assessed valuation to the Board of Tax Appeals from the county Board of Equalization can file a protective claim for a refund in superior court pursuant to RCW 84.68.020,supra.

             We further understand that, in recent years, bills have been introduced in the legislature to amend chapter 84.69 RCW to provide for an automatic refund of taxes whenever there has been an adjustment in valuation by either the county Board of Equalization or the state Board of Tax Appeals.  We anticipate that a similar effort to obtain such a provision will be made during the forthcoming 1985 legislative session.  And, as well, we are advised that some counties have, by ordinance, already provided for such refunds irrespective of the interval between the date of payment of the disputed taxes and the decision of either the county Board of Equalization or the state Board of Tax Appeals.

             As a strict matter of law, however, our ultimate conclusion must be that the applicable statute (RCW 84.69.030) does not presently authorize such administrative relief ". . . except in cases wherein the board of county commissioners acts upon its own motion, . . ."  Conceivably, a court could nevertheless sustain the validity of such a county ordinance as we have just noted on a basis related to that quoted language of the statute.1/ Otherwise,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] however, the problem exists as you have described it‑-pending some form of corrective action by a future legislature.  For that reason, in turn, we believe that your question (as above stated) must currently be answered in the negative;i.e., except in those instances where the board of county commissioners acts on its motion in some appropriate manner, a taxpayer may not be allowed an RCW 84.69.020 administrative refund of ad valorem property taxes based on a reduction of assessed valuation ordered by the Board of Tax Appeals where his or her claim for refund is filed more than three years after the payment of the taxes for which refund is sought.

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

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General

LELAND T. JOHNSON
Senior Assistant
Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/We assume such ordinances have been enacted pursuant to the authority in RCW 84.69.030 allowing the county commissioners to order refunds on their own motion, irrespective of the three‑year limitation.  The ordinance thus acts as a continuing motion for the purpose.

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo