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Bob Ferguson

AGO 1951 No. 428 -
Attorney General Smith Troy


A Fire Protection District may not, even when so authorized by a vote of its electors, levy a property tax at a rate in excess of four mills.

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                                                                 January 15, 1951

Honorable John J. O'Connell
Prosecuting Attorney
Pierce County
Court House
Tacoma Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 428

Attention:  !ttMr. Valen H. Honeywell, Jr.
            Chief Civil Deputy

Dear Sir:

            Receipt is acknowledged of a request for an opinion from this office on the following question:

            Can a fire protection district levy a property tax in excess of four mills when such a special levy is authorized by a vote of the electors of the district?

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            A fire protection district may not, even when so authorized by a vote of its electors, levy a property tax at a rate in excess of four mills.


            Section 16, chapter 34, Laws of 1939 (Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. 5654-116) empowers fire protection districts to levy property taxes.  Section 39 of that act, as last amended by section 11, chapter 254, Laws of 1947 (§ 5654-139 Rem. Supp. 1947) provides in part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "* * * the aggregate annual tax levy for all district purposes exclusive of levies for local improvement districts shall not exceed four (4) mills."

            We are unable to find any provision in the statutes, or in our state constitution, permitting a fire protection district to levy in excess of the four mill rate.  Nor has the power ever been granted to the electors of such a district to authorize a special levy in excess of the statutory four mill limitation.  As we have said many times, a municipal corporation has no more powers than those given to it by the legislature and those implied therefrom.  Therefore, we must hold that a fire protection district has no power in any case to levy in excess of four mills.

            In order that confusion may not exist may we point out that Article VII, section 2 (Amendment 17) of the Washington Constitution and chapter 11, Laws of 1950 Ex. Sess., (the latter amending section 11238-1e Rem. Supp. 1945) do not provide authority for a levy by a fire protection district in excess of four mills.  These two provisions do permit levies by such a district in excess of the forty millaggregate limitations for the retirement of general obligation bonds for capital purposes, when properly authorized by the district's electors, but even such a levy must not be in excess of the four millspecific limitation.  Thus, a fire protection district, if the levies of other districts endanger its full four mill levy within the forty mill limit, may protect a full levy for such a bond issue without being confined within the aggregate limitation and forced to pro-rate [[prorate]].  Chapter 11, supra, does provide for the authorization by the electorate of counties, school districts, and cities and towns of levies in excess of both the specific and the aggregate limitations, but does not authorize levies in excess of the specific limitation imposed upon a fire protection district.  The reason for this is that chapter 11 sets forth the aggregate levy limitation upon all taxing districts, the specific limitations upon the rate of levy of counties, school districts, cities and towns, and then provides for an excess of the limitationsimposed therein.  Because the specific levy of a fire protection district is not provided by chapter 11, that statute does not provide authority for an excess thereof.  Authority to levy in excess of the specific limitation imposed by section 5654-139,supra, must be found elsewhere.  As we have heretofore stated, we find no such authorization and must conclude that none exists.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General