April 24, 1992
Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator
504 Fiscal Court Building
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Dear Ms. Harper-Angel:
In your recent letter to the Attorney General you describe a situation in which some cities in your county allegedly are attempting to use your office's property assessments without paying for them. You point out that KRS 132.285 allows cities to use the PVA's assessments upon payment of a fee of one-half of one cent per one hundred dollars of assessment. You state that some cities elect to use your assessment and pay the fee, then elect not to use your assessment the following year. In the year for which the cities do not pay for your assessment, you state that the cities simply use your assessment for the prior year, which they already have, with or without minor modifications. In this way the cities halve their cost of obtaining assessments. You ask the following questions:
1. Is my office entitled to collect the statutory user fee from such cities in the second year (and subsequent years) when they are, in fact, using my office's assessment a second, third, or fourth time? (We have informed the cities that our position concerning such on-again, off-again users is that, if the city, in fact, uses my office's figures in the subsequent year, then it must pay the statutory user fee for that year regardless of the lack of a formal election.)
2. If your opinion is that my office is not entitled to collect the user fee from these cities in years subsequent to the first year unless they formally elect by ordinance to use the county assessment, may my office refuse to accept from any city which has thus gone off the users' list a subsequent election again to become a formal user under the statute? This might help to break the cycle of avoidance of the statutory fee.
The language in KRS 132.285(1) obligating cities to pay the PVA for assessments reads:
Each city which elects to use the county assessment shall annually appropriate and pay each fiscal year to the office of the property valuation administrator for deputy and other authorized personnel allowance, supplies, maps and equipment, and other authorized expenses of the office one-half of one cent for each hundred dollars of assessment . . . .
An extraordinarily rigid construction of the statute would lead to the conclusion that the obligation to pay for assessments applies only to a city which elects to use the county assessment, and that a city may avoid paying for an assessment merely by officially electing not to use the county assessment for the current year while carrying over assessments from the prior year. We do not believe that such a construction is warranted. Quite obviously the statute is intended to compensate the PVA for the cost of making assessments of property located in and taxable by the city. If a city could simply oscillate between official paid use of the PVA's assessment and unofficial unpaid use of the same assessment for a subsequent year, then the resulting abuse would undercut the purpose of the statute.
We believe that a city elects to use a PVA's assessment if, in fact, the city uses the PVA's assessment as the basis for its own assessments, even if the assessment used is for a prior year. Thus, if a city notifies the PVA that it will not use the PVA's assessment for 1992, and then uses the PVA's 1991 assessment as the basis for its 1992 assessment, then the city has nevertheless elect[ed] to use the county assessment and must pay the appropriate fee.
Whether the city in fact continues to use an old county assessment, however, could be conclusively determined only in a court of law. We cannot say that every city that discontinues use of the county assessment must nevertheless continue to pay for it; the city's liability would be dependent on the extent to which it used the PVA's assessment information rather than conducting independent assessments of its own.
Our response to your first question renders a response to your second question unnecessary.
Ross T. Carter
Assistant Attorney General