Supreme Court Finds Mason Assessment Invalid

Feb 16, 2012 by

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The State Supreme Court has issued their decision in the case of Cary v. Mason County, a challenge of the Mason Conservation District assessment.  Cary challenged the validity of the ordinance and the Mason County district court found the assessment as it was finalized by the County to be an unconstitutional tax.

The State Supreme Court found that the Mason County assessment ordinance was invalid on statutory grounds because the ordinance set the per acre assessment at $0.00.  The court stated the statute establishing district assessments and the State Conservation Commission rule on district assessments both require a per parcel amount and a per acre amount.  The requirement for the per acre amount must be set at a figure greater than $0.00 because the assessment statute requires lands to be classified “according to the benefits conferred”.  RCW 89.08.400(3)  Setting the per acre rate at $0.00 implies that no benefits would be conferred.  This would not be a “suitable” classification for lands the do benefit from the district’s activities.  The court held that the implication of the assessment statute and the SCC rule is that land subject to the assessment should be assigned a positive per acre rate corresponding to the “benefits conferred”.

After finding the Mason ordinance invalid, the court went on to find that the petitioners are entitled to the recovery of money if they paid the assessment under protest.

The Court specifically stated that they express no opinion on the constitutionality of funding the activities of conservation districts through special assessments.

Read the full Supreme Court Decision here:  Mason CD Supreme Court Decision 30.50 Kb

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