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AGO 1950 No. 283 - June 02, 1950
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

TAXATION ‑- REAL PROPERTY ‑- EXEMPTIONS ‑- CHURCH LANDS ‑- ACQUISITION PRIOR TO LEVY

Where real property is owned by a tax-exempt body at the time of levy, even though such property had been in private taxable ownership on the first day of that year, no taxes may be levied thereon for that year.

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                                                                    June 2, 1950

Honorable Boone Hardin
Prosecuting Attorney
Whatcom County
Bellingham, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 283

Dear Sir:

            We have your letter of May 11, 1950, in which you request our opinion on the following question:

            Where real property is in private (taxable) ownership on January 1, 1949, but is owned by a church and used for church purposes (and is, therefore, tax-exempt) at the date of levy, what is the liability for real property taxes levied in that year and due the following year?

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            Where real property is owned by a tax-exempt body at the time of levy, even though such property had been in private taxable ownership on the first day of that year, no taxes may be levied thereon for that year.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It is our opinion that the case of State v. Snohomish County, 71 Wash. 320, 128 Pac. 667, is controlling. In that case a certain tract of real property had been privately owned on March 1, 1907, the date of the initiation of taxing process, but was acquired by the state on August 9, 1907, and was so owned  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] on the date of levy.  The court held that the lien for real property taxes is not affixed until the levy is made, although the lien so affixed then relates back to the first day of March (now the first day of January; see section 1, chapter 34, Laws of 1943 (11265 Rem. Supp. 1943)).  The court then ruled:

            "Obviously the doctrine of relation presupposes a valid creation.  It seems equally plain thatthe creation of a valid tax implies the existence of a susceptible subject of taxation at every stage of the process of such creation.  Since, on general principles of public policy and by both constitutional declaration and statutory enactment, lands while held in public ownership are exempt from taxation, the land here in question was not, during any step in the proceedings creating the tax, after August 9, 1907, when it passed to the state, a susceptible subject of taxation.  It follows that, at that time, the developing process of imposing the tax as a valid creation was arrested."  (Emphasis added.)  Id., p. 324.

            There is no distinction, for this purpose, between the exemption granted real property owned by the state and that owned and used by a church.  See section 1, chapter 206, Laws of 1939 (Rem. Rev. Stat. Supp. 11111).  It follows that no 1950 property taxes were levied or could be levied upon this parcel of real property while in church ownership.

            You are cautioned not to confuse this result with the situation where a valid tax lien had been created and the real property thereafter came into tax-exempt church ownership.  In such a situation the tax lien would continue to exist, but would be unenforceable during such ownership.  Halvorsen v. Pacific County, 22 Wn. (2d) 532, 540, 156 P. (2d) 907.  In the Halvorsen case, it was the further ruling of the court that where the new tax-exempt owner is the state (and, presumably, a political subdivision thereof) outstanding tax liens are not only unenforceable but also are merged with the title, Id., p. 542; but this would not, of course, be the result of church ownership.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            You are further cautioned that the above principles are restricted to the levy of taxes on real property, and do not apply to personal property.  SeeState v. Snohomish County, supra, at page 325.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

C. JOHN NEWLANDS
Assistant Attorney General

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