COUNTIES ‑- TAXATION ‑- FINES ‑- GAME ‑- IMPLEMENTATION OF ELECTION UNDER RCW 77.12.201
If a given county, during 1976, elects to relinquish fines and bail forfeitures for game law violations and to receive payments in lieu of property taxes instead, as provided for by RCW 77.12.201, and notice of this election is transmitted to the director of the state game department prior to January 1, 1977, the first calendar year during which the county will relinquish said fines and forfeitures and receive payments in lieu of taxes instead will be 1978.
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June 8, 1976
Honorable Jay Roy Jones
Asotin County Court House
Asotin, Washington 99402
Cite as: AGO 1976 No. 13
By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:
If a given county, during 1976, elects to relinquish fines and bail forfeitures for game law violations and to receive payments in lieu of property taxes instead, as provided for by RCW 77.12.201, and notice of this election is transmitted to the director of the state game department prior to January 1, 1977, during what calendar year will the county first relinquish said fines and forfeitures and receive payments in lieu of taxes instead?
In our opinion the correct answer to the foregoing question is 1978.
The first statute to be considered in responding to your question is RCW 77.12.170 With emphasis upon the portion which is particularly relevant to your inquiry, this statute reads in material part as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"There is established in the state treasury a fund to be known as the state game fund which shall consist of all moneys received from fees for the sale of licenses and permits provided in this title, from the personalized vehicle license plate fees provided in chapter 46.16 RCW, and from fines, forfeitures, and costs collected for violations of this title, or any other statute for the protection of wild animals and birds and game fish, or any rule or regulation of the commission relating thereto: Provided,That fifty percent of all fines and bail forfeitures shall not become part of the state game fund and shall be retained by the county in which collected: . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)
Next to be noted is RCW 77.12.200 which authorizes the director of the state department of game, with the approval of the game commission, to:
". . . acquire by gift, purchase, lease or condemnation, lands, buildings, waters, or other necessary property for hatchery sites, eyeing stations, rearing ponds, brood ponds, trap sites, game animal, furbearing animal, game bird, nongame bird and game fish farms, habitats and sanctuaries and public hunting and fishing areas together with rights of way for access to any and all such lands, buildings, or waters so acquired, in the manner provided by law for acquiring property for public use: . . ."
Once so acquired, such properties become exempt from property taxation under Article VII, § 1 (Amendment 14) to the state constitution and RCW 84.36.010, along with all other property belonging to the state of Washington. However, by its enactment of the third statute here to be considered, RCW 77.12.201 (codifying § 2, chapter 97, Laws of 1965, Ex. Sess.), the legislature has provided that:
"The board of county commissioners of each county may elect, upon written notice [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] given to the director prior to January 1st of any year, to obtain for the following year an amount in lieu of real estate taxes on game lands equal to that which would be paid on similar parcels of real estate situated in the county. Upon such election the total of all fines and bail forfeitures received by the county during the following year under RCW 77.12.170 shall be transmitted to the director. The election shall continue until the game department is notified differently prior to January 1st of any year."
Your question assumes the election authorized by RCW 77.12.201,supra, is made by your board of county commissioners at sometime during the calendar year 1976 ‑ with notice of this election being properly transmitted to the director of the department of game prior to January 1, 1977. The issue raised is whether this action will result in the relinquishment of fines and bail forfeitures and the correlative receipt of payments in lieu of taxes from the state during 1977; or whether, instead, the actual change over will be delayed until 1978.
It must, of course, be presumed that the 1965 legislature which enacted RCW 77.12.201,supra, was aware of its own prior acts relating to property taxation. State v. Thornbury, 190 Wash. 549, 69 P.2d 815 (1937). Thus, the legislature must have been aware of the long-existing statutory timetable relating (1) to the assessment of property for the purposes of taxation; (2) to the levying of taxes upon such property; and (3) to the collection of property taxes. See, in general, chapters 84.40 through 84.56 RCW.
Under these laws all property which is subject to taxation is assessed for tax purposes as of the first of January of a given year.1/ Taxes are then levied against that property later during the same calendar year.2/ Their collection, however, does not take place until the next [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] ensuing calendar year.3/ Accordingly, for example, if a given parcel of real property were to be assessed for taxes in January, 1977, the first tax levy to be made on the basis of such assessment would be a 1977 levy for collection in 1978.
Yet being thus presumptively aware of this phenomenon the 1965 legislature provided, in the final paragraph of § 3, chapter 97, supra (now RCW 77.12.203), that:
"Upon an election being made by the board of county commissioners to receive an amount in lieu of real property taxes, the county assessors shall enter the property upon the real property tax rolls and the amount due in lieu of taxes shall be paid by the department upon statements being sent by the county treasurers in the same manner as statements for taxes on the general real property of the counties."
By this provision it seems clear to us that the legislature was specifically relating the in lieu payments to be made to a county under RCW 77.12.201 to the regular property tax assessment, levy and collection cycle. But if this is so it necessarily follows that an election made by a county under that statute in 1976 will not produce in lieu payments to that county until 1978 because the property involved will not be placed on the assessment rolls until January 1, 1977, so as to become subject to a "levy" in 1977 for collection in 1978. And by the same token, if the county will not receive those payments from the state until 1978 it logically ought not to be deemed to have relinquished its RCW 77.12.170 fines and bail forfeitures until the start of that year for it seems apparent that the legislature intended the two changes to go hand in hand.
At first this approach might appear contrary to the terms of RCW 77.12.201 itself ‑ here repeated for ease of reference:
"The board of county commissioners of each county may elect, upon written notice given to the director prior to January [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] 1st of any year, to obtain for the following year an amount in lieu of real estate taxes on game lands equal to that which would be paid on similar parcels of real estate situated in the county. Upon such election the total of all fines and bail forfeitures received by the county during the following year under RCW 77.12.170 shall be transmitted to the director. The election shall continue until the game department is notified differently prior to January 1st of any year."
We are, however, required by well-established rules of statutory construction to avoid an interpretation of this statute which would place it in conflict with RCW 77.12.203 ‑ a later provision of the same 1965 act ‑ if it is reasonably possible to do so. See, e.g.,Rosenoff v. Cross, 95 Wash. 525, 164 Pac. 236 (1917). In this case we think that it is. The key is in the twice‑repeated phrase "for the following year."
The first time that this phrase appears it immediately follows the words "January 1st of any year." Thus, particularly in view of RCW 77.12.203, supra, and the property tax cycle which that portion of the act seems to recognize, it seems not illogical to read the phrase, in context, as meaning the year after (i.e., the year which follows) the year in which a particular January 1st falls. Thus read, the statute means that a county which elects to receive in lieu payments from the state is required to give notice to the director of the game department prior to January 1st of "any year" (e.g., 1977) and, having done so, is then to receive those payments during the "following year" (e.g., 1978). In return, it is to relinquish its right to fines or bail forfeitures under RCW 77.12.070 during the same "following year."
We trust the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General
*** FOOTNOTES ***
2/RCW 84.52.030 et seq.