Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1964 No. 107 - Jun 16 1964
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


Where land has been classified or zoned as to its use under the provisions of chapter 36.70 RCW, the county assessor should take into consideration this fact but he is not bound thereby in exercising his judgment as to the best uses to which the property can be put.

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                                                                   June 16, 1964

Honorable S. E. Flanagan
State Representative, 13th District
Route 1
Quincy, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 107

Dear Sir:

            You have requested an opinion of this office on problems relating to the valuation of real estate for purposes of ad valorem taxation.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            1. Where land has been classified or zoned as to its use under the provisions of the Planning Enabling Act, chapter 36.70 RCW, is the county assessor required to adopt that classification in valuing such land for property tax purposes?

            2. Would an amendment to the Planning Enabling Act be valid if it expressly provided that the assessor need not be bound by such aforesaid classification?

            The answers to your questions are contained in the following analysis.


            The 17th Amendment to the state constitution requires that the assessed valuation of property shall be fifty per centum of its true and fair value in money.  Standards for determining true and fair value are set out in RCW 84.40.030, as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "All property shall be assessed fifty percent of its true and fair value in money.  In determining the true and fair value of real or personal property, the assessor shall not adopt a lower or different standard of value because the same is to serve as a basis of taxation; nor shall he adopt as a criterion of value the price for which the said property would sell at auction, or at a forced sale, or in the aggregate with all the property in the town or district; but he shall value each article or description of property by itself, and at such price as he believes the same to be fairly worth in money at the time such assessment is made.  The true cash value of property shall be that value at which the property would be taken in payment of a just debt from a solvent debtor.  In assessing any tract or lot of real property, the value of the land, exclusive of improvements, shall be determined; also, the value of all improvements and structures thereon and the aggregate value of the property, including all structures and other improvements, excluding the value of crops growing on cultivated lands.  In valuing any real property on which there is a coal or other mine, or stone or other quarry, the land shall be valued at such price as such land would sell at a fair, voluntary sale for cash; any improvements thereon shall be separately valued and assessed as hereinabove provided; and any personal property connected therewith shall be listed, valued and assessed separately as other personal property is assessed under general law.  Taxable leasehold estates shall be valued at such price as they would bring at a fair, voluntary sale for cash."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The term "true and fair value" has long been construed by our court to mean that property shall be valued at its fair market value at the time the assessment is made,Mason County Overtaxed, Inc. v. Mason County, 62 Wn. (2d) 677, 384 P. (2d) 352 (1963), and taxing officials are required to take into consideration every factor which might affect the true cash value of the property,Dexter Horton Bldg. Co. v. King County, 10 Wn. (2d) 186, 116 P. (2d) 507 (1941).

            One such factor is the best use which can be made of the property, and this is not necessarily its present use.  Ozette R. Co. v. Grays Harbor County, 16 Wn. (2d) 459, 133 P. (2d) 983 (1943).  In fact, it is improper to consider present use as an element of value if it is not the best use for which the property is adapted.  Samish Gun Club v. Skagit County, 118 Wash. 578, 204 Pac. 181 (1922).

            The assessor must follow the mandate of the 17th Amendment to the state constitution,supra, as well as that of Amendment 14, which provides that all taxes shall be uniform on the same class of property and all real estate shall constitute one class.  This means that in arriving at true and fair value the assessor must use a system of valuation designed to operate equally on all real estate.  Dexter Horton Bldg. Co. v. King County, supra.

            In treating all real estate uniformly, the assessor must determine for himself the best use to which all real estate is adapted.  If certain property has been classified and zoned by a planning commission for a particular use the assessor must apply the same standards he applies in valuing all other property and he therefore cannot be compelled to employ that classified use to the exclusion of all other uses if he, in the exercise of his honest judgment, does not believe that it is the best use to which the property can be put.  He should, however, take into consideration the fact of such zoning and classification because of the effect it has upon the ultimate true and fair value.

            With particular reference to your second question, an amendment to the Planning Enabling Act would be valid if it provided that when valuing real estate for purposes of taxation  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] it was not mandatory that an assessor consider the use classification of a planning commission to be the best use to which the property is adapted.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General