Washington State

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Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1953 No. 117 - Aug 19 1953
Attorney General Don Eastvold


The county assessor may properly certify his assessment list to the County Board of Equalization although property in only part of the county has been reappraised during the current tax year.  The assessor may also reappraise improved property while returning unimproved property at previous valuations.

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                                                                 August 19, 1953

Honorable Alden B. Whelan
Prosecuting Attorney
Island County
Coupeville, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 117

Dear Sir:

            You have requested our opinion whether it is

            "* * * legal for the County Assessor to certify his assessment list to the Board of Equalization when only a portion of the county has been reassessed under the new equalization program based on the Appraisal Manual prepared by the Washington State Tax Commission, * * *"

            and also whether the assessor can reappraise improvements on land without reappraising the land itself and other unimproved property at the same time.

            We conclude that the county assessor may properly certify his assessment list to the Board of Equalization although property in only part of the county has been reappraised pursuant to the Tax Commission's latest Appraisal Manual.  Also the assessor may reappraise improved property while returning unimproved property at previous valuations.


            We assume from the context of your question that the legality of the assessment list is questioned because property in only part of the county had been reappraised on the basis of the State Tax Commission's latest Appraisal Manual prior to the compilation of the current assessment list, whereas property in the remaining portion of the county has not as yet been similarly reappraised.

            It must be presumed that the assessor has performed his duties in a proper manner.  Ozette Railway Co. v. Grays Harbor County, 16 Wn. (2d) 459, 133 P. (2d) 983 (1943).  Consequently, we assume that the reappraised property has been fairly appraised at its true and fair value upon a proper basis, and that there has been no arbitrary or capricious action or deliberate or intentional discrimination upon the part of the assessor.

            All real property subject to taxation is to be assessed every year with reference to its value on the first day of January, RCW  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] 84.40.020.  RCW 84.40.040 requires the assessor to complete valuations of all property by May 31 of each year and to

            "* * * actually determine as nearly as practicable the true and fair value of each tract or lot of land listed for taxation and of each improvement located thereon.  * * *"

            Since values constantly fluctuate, the county assessor must continually reappraise property. His judgment as to value must be based on knowledge or information, Templeton v. Pierce County, 25 Wash. 377, 65 Pac. 553 (1901).  Such information or knowledge might be obtained from either current actual examinations of the property or from records or memory of prior examinations supplemented with subsequent information concerning the condition or changes in the property.  The legislature has not required the assessor to actually examine all of the real property in the county each and every year.  Rather it has said there must each year be an actual "determination" of value.  There thus appears tacit legislative authorization for piecemeal revaluations.

            Furthermore, the fact that some property is revalued in one year while other property remains at old valuations, has been held not to invalidate the tax.  In Doty Lumber & Shingle Co. v. Lewis County, 60 Wash. 428, 111 Pac. 562 (1910), the appellants contended that their timberland had been assessed at full value while other timberland had been assessed at but one‑fourth of its value.  When the Board of Equalization met, about one‑third of the timberlands in the county, including appellants', had been cruised.  On this land the Board raised the assessments but on the uncruised land it took no action.  The court stated at page 431 that:

            "The assessment of the property of others at a lower proportion of its value than that of a complaining taxpayer, which is not assessed at more than its fair cash value as required by law, does not make the tax invalid unless the assessment was fraudulently made.  * * * [Citing cases]."

            This language was quoted with approval and followed in Oregon-Washington R. R. & Nav. Co. v. Thurston County, 98 Wash. 218, 167 Pac. 930 (1917).  And seeState Tax Commission of Maryland v. Brandt Cabinet Works, Md. 97 A. (2d) 290.

            It should be noticed that the rule of Yakima Valley Bank v. Yakima County, 149 Wash. 552, 271 Pac. 820 (1928), is not applicable here since in that case different percentage rates for assessment purposes were applied to established values of the respective properties, while here there has been merely an adjustment of the value of certain property.  The discrimination apparent in that case is not present here.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Your second question indicates that valuations for the current year have generally been increased only on improved property, while valuations on unimproved property have remained unchanged.  The fact that no change has been made in the valuation of property is, of course, of itself no indication that the assessor has not exercised his judgment as to the value of that property.  Indulging the presumption which we must, under the rule announced in the Ozette Railway case, supra, it appears that the assessor in his quasi-judicial capacity has determined that the value of unimproved land has remained nearly constant with prior valuations, whereas the value of improved property has increased.

            While improvements on realty must themselves be considered real property, all of which must be taxed as one class, Amendment 14, Washington State Constitution, the assessor is specifically directed to appraise the land and improvements thereon separately, RCW 84.40.030.  This statutory requirement does not impinge upon any constitutional mandate, for valuation is but an initial step in the taxing processes, and separate valuation merely helps to assure a correct determination.  Equality is maintained if the assessment rates against the appraised value of all property are uniform.

            The usual grounds for relief against excessive tax assessments are bottomed in allegations that the taxing officials have proceeded in an intentionally discriminatory manner, or have proceeded upon a fundamentally wrong basis resulting in an assessment so palpably exorbitant and excessive as to amount to constructive fraud, or that the assessment is so excessive as to manifest arbitrary conduct or fraud, see 12 Wash. L. Rev. 205, and Ozette Railway Co. v. Grays Harbor County,supra.  Before an assessment can be stricken, however, such facts must be judicially established, and our answer to your questions must necessarily presume absence of these conditions.  Accordingly the above conclusions follow.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General