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AGO 1963 No. 53 - September 04, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- ASSESSOR ‑- EMPLOYMENT OF PRIVATE EXPERT APPRAISERS ‑- ASSESSMENT OF FORESTRY LAND AND TIMBER ‑- COST OF APPRAISAL ‑- COUNTY, SCHOOLS AND JUNIOR TAXING DISTRICTS.

If a private forestry firm appraises, pursuant to a contract, the forestry land and timber in a county for tax assessment purposes, the cost must be paid from the assessor's budget and cannot be paid by the schools and junior taxing district on some theory of anticipated benefit.

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                                                               September 4, 1963

Honorable James Munro
Prosecuting Attorney
Kitsap County
515 Sixth Street
Bremerton, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 53

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on two questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) If a private forestry firm appraises, pursuant to a contract, the forestry land and timber of the county for tax assessment purposes can the cost of such an appraisal be prorated to the county, the schools and the junior taxing districts in proportion to the benefit each will receive from the anticipated increased revenue?

            (2) If so, can the payments by the county, the schools, and the junior taxing districts be extended over a three‑year period?

            We answer your first question in the negative, thereby rendering consideration of your second question unnecessary.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It is fundamental that counties and other municipal subdivisions possess no inherent power of taxation but they secure the right, not only to tax, but assess from express legislative authority.  Weyerhaeuser Timber Company v. Roessler, 2 Wn.2d 304, 97 P.2d 1070 (1940);Pacific Etc. Ass'n v. Pierce County, 27 Wn.2d 347, 178 P.2d 351 (1947).  Generally, this power to assess has been granted by the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] legislature to the counties by Title 84 RCW.  More specifically RCW 84.32.020 provides in part that:

            ". . . Forest land shall be assessed and taxed under the provisions of law pertaining to the assessment and taxation of real property. . . ."

            And chapter 84.40 RCW, which deals with the assessment of real property, directs thecounty assessor to list and value all property within the county for general tax purposes.  We find no such legislative authority for the schools and junior taxing districts to assess real property for general tax purposes.  Our court inPacific Etc. Ass'n. v. Pierce County, supra, held that:

            "Municipal authorities cannot exercise powers except those expressly granted, or those necessarily implied from granter powers. . . ."  (p. 353.)

            By § 10, chapter 251, Laws of 1955 (cf. RCW 36.21.011), the legislature provided that:

            "Any assessor who deems it necessary to enable him to complete the listing and the valuation of the property of his county within the time prescribed by law, (1) may appoint one or more well qualified citizens of his county to act as his assistants or deputies; and each assistant so appointed shall, under the direction of the assessor, after taking the required oath, perform all the duties enjoined upon, vested in or imposed upon assessors, and (2)may contract with persons, firms or corporations, regardless of their residence, who are expert appraisers, to assist in the valuation of property."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Section 11, chapter 251, Laws of 1955, provides that:

            "Appraisers whose services may be obtained by contract or who may be assigned by the tax commission to assist any county assessor shall act in an advisory capacity only, and valuations made by them shall not in any manner be binding upon the assessor, it being the intent herein that all valuations made pursuant to this act shall be made and entered by the assessor pursuant to law as directed herein."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The county assessor has not been released of his ultimate responsibility of listing and appraising county property for general tax purposes by these statutes.  However he has been given authority to contract with expert appraisers to assist him in the valuation of the property.  The schools and junior taxing districts have not been given any authority to assess property for general taxation purposes nor have they been given authority to enter into contracts for the appraisal of property.  They therefore have no authority to pay for any part of the cost of such an appraisal.

            In the case ofLeffingwell v. Scutt, 224 N.Y.S. 168, 221 App. Div. 462 (1927), the trustees of a village employed a firm to make blanket assessments for the board of assessors and agreed to pay a percentage of the assessment.  The New York supreme court held that such a contract was not authorized by statute and was illegal and not binding on the village.  It is likewise our opinion that any agreement whereby the schools and junior taxing districts would be obligated to pay any part of the cost of the appraisal of timber land for general tax purposes is not authorized by statute and would be void.

            Our conclusion is strengthened by the fact that the legislature, in ordering a comprehensive program of revaluation of all taxable property within a county and in ordering a revaluation once each four years, directed each county assessor to make adequate provision in his budget to effect such county-wide revaluations.  See, § 5, chapter 251, Laws of 1955 (cf. RCW 84.41.050).  If the legislature had intended the school districts and junior taxing districts to pay any part of the cost of such revaluation, such districts would also have been directed to make provision in their budgets to that effect.

            Because of this negative answer to your first question, consideration of your second question regarding the extension of payments over a three‑year period is unnecessary.

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

H. EUGENE QUINN
Assistant Attorney General

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