King County Fire Protection Districts No. 16, No. 36 and No. 40 v. Housing Authority of King County, 60984-5

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation872 P.2d 516,123 Wn.2d 819
Docket NumberNo. 60984-5,60984-5
PartiesKING COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICTS #16, #36 and #40, Appellants, v. HOUSING AUTHORITY OF KING COUNTY, Washington, Respondent.
Decision Date12 May 1994
Williams & Williams, Kinnon W. Williams and Erin Pitts, Seattle, for appellants

Montgomery, Purdue, Blankinship & Austin, John D. Blankinship, Seattle, for respondent.

ANDERSEN, Chief Justice.


This is an action to determine whether a public housing authority must contract with fire protection districts for fire protection and emergency medical services or pay "benefit charges" levied by the districts.

King County Housing Authority (Housing Authority) operates a number of low-income housing projects within King County. The Housing Authority was established in 1939, pursuant to federal and state law. 1

The purpose of both the United States Housing Act of 1937, 42 U.S.C. § 1437 et seq., and its state counterpart, the Housing Authorities Law, RCW 35.82, is to establish public housing authorities that make safe and sanitary housing available to low income persons. 2 Funding from the federal government is available to local housing authorities only if certain conditions are met. 3

One of those conditions requires that federal funds not be contributed to a local housing authority unless the housing project to be funded "is exempt from all real and personal property taxes levied or imposed by the State, city, county, or other political subdivision". 4

State law thus exempts housing authorities "from all taxes and special assessments of the city, the county, the state or any political subdivision" of the state. 5 Both federal and state laws authorize housing authorities to make "payments in lieu of taxes". 6

Furthermore, the Housing Cooperation Law, RCW 35.83, authorizes public agencies in this state to cooperate with, provide services to and contract with housing authorities.

Pursuant to these federal and state statutes, Respondent Housing Authority has entered into a number of agreements with King County. These agreements generally provide that in lieu of taxes and special assessments and in payment for the public services and facilities furnished to the project, the Housing Authority will make an annual payment to King County. That payment is agreed to be an amount equal to either 10 percent of the shelter rents charged by the Housing Authority with respect to the particular housing project involved, or any lesser amount that is permitted to be paid by state law. 7 Under the agreements, King County (which is not a party to this action) agreed to proportion the payments among the various taxing bodies in the county.

Fire protection services and emergency medical services provided to the Housing Authority projects involved here are not furnished by King County. Instead, they are provided by Appellants, King County Fire Protection Districts 16, 36 and 40 (Fire Protection Districts). The Fire Protection Districts involved here are political subdivisions of the State, 8 and are independent of any county government.

The Fire Protection Districts are primarily funded by property taxes levied pursuant to RCW 52.16, by direct The Housing Authority has refused to contract with the Fire Protection Districts pursuant to this statute claiming that (1) the contract statute, RCW 52.30.020, does not apply to housing authorities or (2) the cooperation agreements between the Housing Authority and King County satisfy any obligation the Housing Authority has to contract with the Fire Protection Districts. The Housing Authority claims the Fire Protection Districts are compensated for services rendered to Housing Authority property by distributions made by King County. 9

                service charges assessed pursuant to RCW 52.12, and by benefit charges made pursuant to RCW 52.18.   Additionally, the fire protection district law provides that an agency or municipal corporation which owns property within a fire protection district "shall contract with such district for fire protection services necessary for the protection and safety of personnel and property".   RCW 52.30.020

The Housing Authority also has refused to pay any benefit charges to the Fire Protection Districts, claiming these charges are taxes or assessments from which the Housing Authority is exempt.

Benefit charges may not be assessed against public entities which have entered into fire protection contracts pursuant to RCW 52.30.020. The Fire Protection Districts involved here began assessing the benefit charges in 1990 and 1991. The use of benefit charges enables fire protection districts to reduce the amount of their regular property tax levies. Benefit charges are to be based on what a fire protection district determines is an amount that is reasonably proportional to the measurable benefits resulting from the services afforded by the district to the property. 10 The charge is not based on the value of real property, but is In December 1991, the Fire Protection Districts filed an action in the Superior Court for King County seeking an order requiring the Housing Authority to enter into contracts for fire protection services, pursuant to RCW 52.30.020, and for a judgment for past benefit charges due to the Fire Protection Districts. All parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the Housing Authority's motion and dismissed the Fire Protection Districts' complaint. The Fire Protection Districts appealed and we accepted certification of the case from the Court of Appeals.

instead linked to other factors such as insurance savings, water source and distance from fire service facilities.

Two issues are raised by this appeal.


ISSUE ONE. Are housing authorities required by RCW 52.30.020 to contract with fire protection districts for fire protection and medical emergency services?

ISSUE TWO. Is the King County Housing Authority liable for payment of benefit charges, imposed pursuant to RCW 52.18, for those years in which it did not contract with the Fire Protection Districts for fire protection services?

Preliminary Matters

In reviewing a summary judgment of dismissal, an appellate court engages in the same inquiry as the trial court. 11 In cases such as this one, where the issue is the proper construction of a statute, the trial court's conclusion is reviewed de novo. 12

Preliminarily, the Fire Protection Districts argue that the trial court erred in denying their motion to strike declarations submitted by the Housing Authority which expressed the legal opinions of the declarants as to whether "benefit charges" levied by the Fire Protection Districts are taxes.

A court may not consider inadmissible evidence when ruling on a motion for summary judgment. 13 The legal opinions of witnesses are inadmissible. 14

The trial court here recognized the statements as being legal opinions and properly disregarded those opinions. The Fire Protection Districts claim, however, that the trial court erred in failing to then strike the declarations in their entirety.

A ruling on a motion to strike is discretionary with the trial court. 15 A trial court does not abuse its discretion in admitting a declaration for a limited purpose where, as here, the trial court disregards inadmissible legal conclusions. 16


CONCLUSION. Pursuant to RCW 52.30.020, housing authorities are required to contract with fire protection districts for fire protection and emergency medical services.

The resolution of this first issue requires us to interpret a number of seemingly unrelated statutes. In construing these statutes we follow general principles of statutory construction which require that statutes be construed in the manner that best fulfills the legislative purpose and intent. 17 Where possible, statutes should be read together to determine legislative purpose so as to achieve a harmonious total statutory scheme which maintains the integrity of the respective statutes. 18

The first statute we consider is RCW 52.30.020; it provides:

Wherever a fire protection district has been organized which includes within its area or is adjacent to, buildings and equipment, except those leased to a nontax exempt person or organization, owned by the legislative or administrative authority of a state agency or institution or a municipal corporation, the agency or institution or municipal corporation involved shall contract with such district for fire protection services necessary for the protection and safety of personnel and property pursuant to the provisions of chapter 39.34 RCW, as now or hereafter amended: PROVIDED, That nothing in this section shall be construed to require that any state agency, institution, or municipal corporation contract for services which are performed by the staff and equipment of such state agency, institution, or municipal corporation: PROVIDED FURTHER, That nothing in this section shall apply to state agencies or institutions or municipal corporations which are receiving fire protection services by contract from another municipality, city, town or other entities ...

(Italics ours.)

The Fire Protection Districts claim this statute places a duty on the Housing Authority, as a state agency or institution or as a municipal corporation, 19 to contract with the Fire Protection Districts for fire protection services. In Ellensburg v. State, 118 Wash.2d 709, 826 P.2d 1081 (1992), we held that substantially identical language in former RCW 35.21.775 placed a duty on the state to contract for fire protection services provided to Central Washington University by the City of Ellensburg. 20 We there held that the language "the state or agency or institution shall contract with the city or town for fire protection services necessary for the protection and safety of personnel and property" was mandatory. 21

Based on the plain language of the statute, and on our holding in Ellensburg, it would...

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