Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1955 No. 55 - Apr 6 1955
Attorney General Don Eastvold


Prior liens for property taxes terminate upon acquisition of the property by a school district.  Such liens may be cancelled commencing June 9, 1955, by the April meeting of the county board of equalization.

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                                                                    April 6, 1955

Honorable Lee J. Reynolds
Prosecuting Attorney
Clallam County
Port Angeles, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 55

Dear Sir:

            You have requested our opinion as to whether 1954 ad valorem property taxes on property acquired subsequent to levy of the taxes by a local school district may be canceled by the county board of equalization.  You have also inquired as to the proper procedure for such cancellation if that can be done.

            We conclude that the lien for the taxes terminated upon the school's acquisition of the property and that the taxes may be canceled in the manner indicated in the body of your opinion.


            From the context of your letter, we presume that title vested in the school district after the levy for the 1954 taxes had been made and that consequently the lien for such taxes on the property was perfected prior to the acquisition.  We also presume that the property was acquired through eminent domain proceedings.

            InGasaway v. Seattle, 52 Wash. 444, it was held that a county could not enforce a prior tax lien upon property acquired by a city through eminent domain, even though the county had not been made a party to the proceedings.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Also seeState v. Frost, 25 Wash. 134, holding that the lien for taxes levied before forfeiture by a contract purchaser of his interest in realty to the state was unenforceable.  InHalvorsen v. Pacific County, 22 Wn. (2d) 532, it was held that the lien of taxes levied upon privately held oyster land became merged with the title to such land after it had reverted to the state and that the lien terminated after the merger.

            On the authority of the above cases we conclude that tax liens on real property are discharged upon the acquisition of the property by a school district.  This conclusion is in accord with previous opinions issued by this office to the King County Prosecuting Attorney on August 22, 1949 [[Opinion No. 49-51-110]], and to the Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney on March 24, 1949 [[Opinion No. 47-49-569]].

            Cancellation of such uncollectible taxes may be made by the April meeting of the county board of equalization pursuant to chapter 112, Laws of 1955, which amended RCW 84.56.400 to read as follows:

            "The county treasurer shall also make and file with the county board of equalization a record, setting forth the facts relating to such manifest errors in description, double assessments, clerical errors in extending the rolls, and such manifest errors in the listing of property which do not involve a revaluation of property such as the assessment of property exempted by law from taxation or the failure to deduct the exemption allowed by law to the head of a family, as shall come to his attention after the rolls have been turned over to him for collection.  The said record shall also set forth by legal description all property belonging exclusively to the state, any county or any municipal corporation whose property is exempt from taxation, upon which there remains, according to the tax roll, any unpaid taxes.

            "The county board of equalization at its meeting on the third Monday in April shall consider such  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] matters as appear in the record filed with it by the county treasurer, and shall only correct such matters as are set forth in such record, but it shall have no power to change or alter the assessment of any person, or change the aggregate value of the taxable property of the county, except in so far as it is necessary to correct the errors hereinbefore mentioned:  PROVIDED, That the board shall cancel all unpaid taxes upon property which belongs exclusively to the state, any county or municipal corporation.  The board shall make findings of the facts upon which it bases its decision on all matters submitted to it, and when so made the assessment and levy shall have the same force as if made in the first instance, and the county treasurer shall proceed to collect the taxes due on the rolls as modified.

            "The board at its April meeting shall consider only matters referred to it by the records of the county treasurer under this section and RCW 84.56.390."  (We have underlined the additions to the section made by the 1955 act.)

            We point out, however, that chapter 112 carried no emergency clause; consequently the changes enacted will not become effective until June 9, 1955.  Thus the cancellation procedure set out therein will not be available until the 1956 meeting of the board, unless the 1955 board, should be reconvened sometime after June 9th of this year.

            As to tax liens on real property sold to the state or its political subdivisions after June 22, 1955, chapter 5, Laws of 1955, extraordinary session will apply.  That act provides that the sale of real property to the state or its political subdivisions will not be valid as against the lien of any tax and that such lien may be enforced in the same manner as if the property were owned by a private person.  We as yet have received no copies of the enrolled bill and consequently are unable to supply you with the exact text of that act at this time.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General