Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1965 No. 4 - Jan 18 1965
Attorney General John J. O'Connell


If an assessor has good reason to believe that there may be an error in the tax rolls which would result in certain property being assessed at other than its true and fair value, he has the authority and a duty to determine whether an error does exist, and if so, to take whatever corrective measures that are necessary.

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                                                                 January 18, 1965

Honorable Irving Koths
Prosecuting Attorney
Wahkiakum County
Cathlamet, Washington

                                                                                                                  Cite as:  AGO 65-66 No. 4

Dear Sir:

            By a previously acknowledged letter you have requested our opinion concerning the correction of the property tax rolls prepared by the county assessor.

            The assessor has listed certain real estate in one ownership on the tax rolls showing it to contain 116 acres. There is now reason to believe there are actually about 50 acres.  You ask whether the property owner must furnish proof of the difference in acreage or does the assessor have authority to make a correction.

            The answer to your question is contained in the following analysis.


            For purposes of taxation all property must be assessed on the basis of its true and fair value.  Amendment 17, State Constitution; RCW 84.40.030-84.40.040.  In arriving at such value the assessor must honestly exercise his best judgment.Dexter Horton Bldg. Co. v. King County, 10 Wn. (2d) 186, 116 P. (2d) 507 (1941).

            If the assessor has good reason to believe that there may be an error in the tax rolls which would result in certain  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] property being assessed at something other than its true and fair value, he and he alone has the authority and a duty under the aforementioned constitutional provision and statutes to determine on his own initiative whether such error does exist, and if it does, to take whatever corrective measures are necessary.  He cannot in performing his duty as an assessor require as a condition precedent to making such correction that the property owner prove an error has been made.  This is in accord with a previous opinion of this office.  AGO 1913-14, page 340 [[1913-14 OAG 340]].

            If the assessor in the exercise of his best judgment becomes satisfied that the property in question has been placed upon the rolls as containing more acres than it in fact actually does contain, the assessor should seek correction of the current assessment through the county board of equalization at any one of its meetings.  Such a mistake amounts to an error in description, and if the assessment is based upon the value per acre it is an overassessment tantamount to a double assessment.  Puget Realty Co. v. King County, 50 Wash. 349, 97 Pac. 226 (1908).  The assessor should, of course, prepare his future assessment rolls to reflect the true acreage.

            While we are not concerned in this opinion with remedies of the taxpayer in respect to any excessive back taxes he may have paid, having citedPuget Realty Co. v. King County, supra, we call attention to Peterson v. Jefferson County, 167 Wash. 269, 9 P. (2d) 73 (1932), wherein the court limited the holding of the Puget Realty Co. case to the particular facts there involved.  See, also,Pittock & Leadbetter Lumber Co. v. Skamania County, 98 Wash. 145, 167 Pac. 108 (1917).

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General