Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1956 No. 259 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


 County commissioners have authority to sell easements over tax title property.
                                                                 - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                    May 2, 1956 

Honorable Charles O. Carroll
Prosecuting Attorney
King County
County-City Building
Seattle 4, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 259

 Attention:  !ttMr. K. G. Smiles
            Chief Civil Deputy

Dear Sir: 

            Your letter of March 30, 1956, previously acknowledged, requested our opinion on the following question:

             May a county grant an easement to the Pacific Northwest Pipeline Corporation over or through tax title property being held by the county?

             Our answer is in the affirmative.


             It is a well settled rule of law in this state that a county holds tax title land not in a proprietary capacity but, rather, in trust for the state and the various taxing units within which the land lies.   [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] Sasse v. King County, 196 Wash. 242, and cases cited therein.

             The purpose behind the acquisition and resale of the land is the collection of taxes with the just distribution of the proceeds.  Shelton v. Klickitat County, 152 Wash. 193.

             It is, further, the law in this state that county commissioners have only those powers expressly granted by constitution and statutes or necessarily implied from the grants.  State ex rel. King County v. Superior Court, 33 Wn. (2d) 76, 81.  We find no express statutory authority to the effect that county commissioners may grant easements over tax title property.

             At first blush the foregoing would appear to preclude the granting of an easement over or through land acquired by the county at a tax foreclosure sale.  However, a more thorough study of the reasons underlying the trust theory and the statutory powers of county commissioners leads us to the conclusion that easements over or through tax title lands may be purchased by the Pacific Northwest Pipeline Corporation.

             Attorney General Opinion, AGO 55-57 No. 181, to the Honorable Arnold R. Zempel, Prosecuting Attorney of Snohomish County, January 3, 1956, concludes that county commissioners may subdivide tax title property and dispose of such property in parcels of a size less than that in which it was acquired.  The basic purpose of the county's acquiring and reselling such property is to recover for the state and the taxing units within which the land lies the delinquent taxes and place the land back on the tax rolls.  The purpose of the trust is not destroyed where the compensation received is distributed properly, and the granting of the easement does not so reduce the value of the land as to preclude a later sale for the benefit of thecestui que trust.

             We conclude that in view of being authorized to resell in smaller portions than that acquired, county commissioners have, also, by necessary implication, authority to grant easements over tax title lands.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In State ex rel. Thomas v. Superior Court our Court, without opinion, on April 23, 1956, denied an application for a writ of prohibition which would have precluded the right of eminent domain in the Pacific Northwest Pipeline Corporation.  It would appear that, in view of the utility's having the right to condemn, it should not be necessary to increase the cost of installation through needless litigation.

             We hope this opinion will prove of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General