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End Prison Industrial Complex v. King County

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

September 26, 2017

END PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, Appellant,
v.
KING COUNTY, Respondent.

          JOHANSON, J.

         End Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC) sued King County to challenge the County's calculation of property tax increases under Proposition 1 (Prop. 1), a local ballot measure that authorized a property tax levy at a rate above the limit established in ch. 84.55 RCW. EPIC claimed that although the language of the Prop. 1 ballot title authorized an increased tax rate in the first year of the levy, the ballot title's language did not expressly state, as required in RCW 84.55.050, [1] that the increased base tax amount in the first year could be used to calculate future years' increases. In addition, EPIC claimed that the ballot title did not expressly and clearly state, as required in RCW 84.55.050, that the tax proceeds could be used to construct ajuvenile detention facility.

         The superior court granted the County's summary judgment motion and dismissed EPIC's claims, ruling that (1) EPIC's claims were untimely, (2) the ballot title language was sufficient under RCW 84.55.050 to authorize the County to levy property taxes in future years based on the increased base tax amount in the first year, and (3) the ballot title language was sufficient to limit the use of the tax proceeds to purposes including the construction of a juvenile detention facility. EPIC appeals all three rulings.

         We hold that EPIC s challenge to the County's calculation of subsequent levy amounts was timely. We also hold that Prop, l's ballot title did not expressly authorize the County to levy property taxes based on the increased base tax amount in the first year of the levy. Thus, we reverse the order granting summary judgment on this point. However, we further hold that the ballot title authorized use of those funds for a limited purpose that included the construction of a juvenile detention facility. Thus, we affirm the superior court on this point. Accordingly, we reverse in part and affirm in part the superior court's order granting the County's summary judgment motion. We remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS

         I. Real Property Tax Levies

         Central to this case is the system by which taxing districts calculate and impose real property taxes under ch. 84.55 RCW, which limits the rate at which a taxing district may increase the regular property tax levy amount. See Wash. Citizens Action of Wash. v. State, 162 Wn.2d 142, 145, 171 P.3d 486 (2007). RCW 84.55.010, the "levy lid" statute, imposes an amount that each year's regular property taxes may not exceed, calculated using the following formula:

[T]he limit factor multiplied by the amount of regular property taxes lawfully levied for such district in the highest of the three most recent years in which such taxes were levied for such district plus an additional dollar amount calculated by multiplying the regular property tax levy rate of that district for the preceding year by the increase in assessed value in that district.

         The limit factor, which is defined by RCW 84.55.005(2), is 101 percent.[2]

         RCW 84.55.050 allows a taxing district to exceed the levy lid under certain circumstances. This "levy lid lift" statute authorizes a taxing district to submit to voters a proposition that will lift the levy lid. RCW 84.55.050(1). The dollar amount of such a levy lid lift may not be used as the base amount for computing "subsequent levies" unless the proposition "expressly" states that the levy will be used for this purpose. RCW 84.55.050(3); see also RCW 84.55.050(4)(a). "Except as otherwise expressly stated in an approved ballot measure, " subsequent levies are calculated as if the levy lid lift proposition "had not been approved." RCW 84.55.050(5)(a).

         Under RCW 84.55.050(4)(c), the purpose for which levy lid lift funds are used also may be limited. But the proposition must "clearly" and "expressly" state that this condition will apply. RCW 84.55.050(1), (4)(c).

         II. Background

         In 2012, voters approved Prop. 1. Prop. 1 implemented Ordinance 17304 and had the stated purpose of "concerning a replacement facility for juvenile justice and family law services." Clerk's Papers (CP) at 367. Prop. 1 authorized "an additional property tax for nine years to fund capital costs to replace the Children and Family Justice Center." CP at 367.

         In April 2016, EPIC, a nonprofit corporation, sued the County and alleged that the County had over-collected property taxes under Prop. 1 beginning in 2014 and that Prop, l's ballot title concealed from voters that Prop. 1 would be used to fund a "new youth jail." CPat3. EPIC sought declaratory and injunctive relief to bar the County from levying additional excessive property taxes and spending Prop. 1 funds on a "new youth jail" and to force the County to refund excessive property taxes that had already been collected. CP at 16.

         III. Summary Judgment Motions

         A. County's Request for Summary Judgment

         1. County's Summary Judgment Motion

         In July 2016, the County moved for summary judgment. The County argued that EPIC's lawsuit was untimely because EPIC had not brought a preelection ballot title challenge under RCW 29A.36.090. The County alternatively argued that summary judgment was appropriate because the ballot title adequately informed voters of the method by which property taxes would be calculated and the purpose for the taxes.

         a. Preelection Evidence

         In support of its motion, the County submitted materials including the full text of Ordinance 17304 and related reports given to the county council. A 2012 county council committee report addressed a proposed ballot measure authorizing a property tax levy to replace the existing "Youth Services Center" in Seattle with a "new Children and Family Justice Center." CP at 97. The existing structure consisted of three conjoined buildings that housed courtrooms, administrative offices, a youth detention facility, and on-site parking. The report proposed constructing a new courthouse, a new detention center, and additional parking.

         Ordinance 17304, adopted in 2012, provided for a proposition to be passed

concerning funding for a replacement facility for the Children and Family Justice Center. This proposition would authorize King County to levy an additional property tax to provide funding for capital costs to replace the Children and Family Justice Center, which serves the justice needs of children and families. It would authorize King County to levy an additional regular property tax of $0.07 per $1, 000 of assessed valuation for collection in 2013. The 2013 levy amount would become the base upon which levy increases would be computed for each of the eight succeeding years.

CP at 85 (emphasis added). Ordinance 17304 defined the '"[c]hildren and family justice center replacement project'" to include replacement of the "detention facilities" at the "children and family justice center." CP at 83.

         b. Election Evidence

         The County also submitted the ballot title and explanatory statement written by the prosecuting attorney, the voter's pamphlet page discussing Prop. 1, and the election results. As presented to voters, the ballot title of Prop. 1 stated,

Proposition No. 1
Children and Family Services Center Capital Levy
The King County council passed Ordinance No. 17304 concerning a replacement facility for juvenile justice and family law services. This proposition would authorize King County to levy an additional property tax for nine years to fund capital costs to replace the Children and Family Justice Center, which serves the justice needs of children and families. It would authorize King County to levy an additional regular property tax of $0.07 per $1, 000 of assessed valuation for collection in 2013. Increases in the following eight years would be subject to the limitations in chapter 84.55 RCW, all as provided in Ordinance No. 17304. Should this proposition be: () Approved () Rejected

CP at 367 (emphasis added).

         Before the election, county voters had also received the ballot title, an explanatory statement, and the entire text of Ordinance 17304 in their voters' pamphlets. The explanatory statement told voters that Prop. 1 would authorize "an additional regular property tax" to replace and expand the Children and Family Justice Center, including "replacement of the . . . detention facilities." CPat251.

         A majority of voters approved Prop. 1.

         c. Implementation Evidence

         Related to the implementation of Prop. 1, the County submitted the declaration of Hazel Gantz, who calculated county property taxes including Prop, l's levy. Gantz explained that Prop, l's levy proceeds were kept in a separate fund from other levy proceeds because of Prop, l's limited purpose.

         Gantz described how she calculated the levy under Prop. 1. For 2013, the first year, Gantz relied upon the ballot title and applied the first year levy rate[3] to the total taxable value in the County to arrive at the highest lawful Prop. 1 levy amount for 2013.

         For 2014, Gantz referred to the "ballot title, explanatory statement, and the ordinance" to determine the allowable increase in the levy amount. CP at ...


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