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AGO 1958 No. 199 - June 05, 1958
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

HIGHWAYS ‑- RIGHT OF WAYS ‑- LIABILITY FOR TAXES OR ASSESSMENTS BY WEED DISTRICTS.

WEED DISTRICTS ‑- AUTHORITY TO LEVY ASSESSMENTS AND TAXES.

TAXATION ‑- ASSESSMENT AGAINST RAILROAD AND HIGHWAY RIGHT OF WAYS BY WEED DISTRICT.

RAILROADS ‑- LIABILITY FOR TAXES OR ASSESSMENTS BY WEED DISTRICT.

1. State highway right of ways are subject to taxes or assessments levied by weed districts to be paid by legislative appropriation from the state general fund.

2. Railroad right of ways are subject to taxes and assessments levied by weed districts based upon the value of the benefits to such property or upon the cost to the district of destroying weeds thereon when the railroad fails to do so.

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                                                                    June 5, 1958

Honorable Paul Klasen
Prosecuting Attorney
Grant County
Ephrata, Washington                                                                                      Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 199

Dear Sir:

            You have requested an opinion of this office on two questions, which may be stated as follows:

            (1) Are state highway right of ways subject to taxes or assessments of weed districts?

            (2) What is the proper method of assessing railroad right of ways by weed districts?

            We answer your questions as set forth in the following analysis.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The powers of weed districts are contained in chapter 17.04 RCW.  Weed district taxes and assessments on state lands could not be collected in the absence of specific legislative authorization which is found in RCW 17.04.180 as follows:

            "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 director of business control, 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 director of business control, 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, with interest at six percent per annum on the amount of such charges, and without penalties."

            The term "state lands" as used in that section is not qualified or limited in any way and thus would be applicable to any land belonging to the state, including highway right of ways, under the rule of statutory construction that words of common use are to be given their ordinary meaning unless the context shows they are differently used.  State v. Vosgien, 82 Wash. 685, 144 Pac. 947; Electrical Products Consolidated v. Smyser, 19 Wn. (2d) 509, 143 P. (2d) 452.  Accordingly, when any such right of ways are within a weed district the statute requires the county treasurer to certify annually to the commissioner of public lands a statement showing the amount of the taxes for which said lands would be liable if privately owned.  Ultimately the legislature must appropriate sufficient money from the state general fund to pay such charges to the weed district.  In so far as 1931-32 OAG 113 [[to C. W. Clausen, Supervisor of Municipal Corporations on May 18, 1931]]is in conflict herewith, it is overruled.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In addition, RCW 17.04.160 applies to "any lands of a public or quasi-public nature" which also includes state highway property and places a duty upon the owner or persons in charge to destroy noxious weeds thereon.  If the state does not perform this duty, the district may do the work and bill the state as set out above.  We are informed that the maintenance division of the state highway department cooperates fully with weed districts and carries out a weed eradication program on all of its right of ways, particularly on those within weed districts, so that right of ways receive the same weed eradication treatment as given contiguous lands.

            Referring to the second question, railroad right of ways may be included within weed districts and taxed for district purposes.  1931-32 OAG 313 [[to Spencer Short, Prosecuting Attorney, Kittitas County on July 23, 1932]].  When in weed districts and taxed for district purposes.  1931-32 OAG 313.  When weeds are not cut down by those in charge of lands, the districts are authorized under RCW 17.04.200, 17.04.210 and 17.04.220 to destroy such weeds, and the cost of so doing becomes a tax on the land on which such work was done to the extent of the cost of the work.  The tax is collected the same as other real property taxes.

            In addition, RCW 17.04.240 provides:

            "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 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."

            RCW 17.04.245 reads:

            "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."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            In our opinion, the assessment of railroad right of ways is no different from the assessment of other private property within the district.  It is true that for ad valorem taxation the state tax commission makes the assessment of railroad operating property, chapter 84.12 RCW, and certifies the same to the various county assessors.  Weed districts, however, do not base their taxes or assessments upon the value of the real estate.  Such property is assessed by the district's directors upon the value of the benefits the land will receive from district operation or upon the cost to the district of eradication of weeds when the landowner or person in charge fails to destroy them.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

HENRY W. WAGER
Assistant Attorney General

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