William Severson Law
William C. Severson PLLC is dedicated to providing excellent and cost effective representation in matters involving state and local taxation and other government fees and exactions.
State and Local Tax Disputes
Development and other Governmental Fees Exactions
William C. Severson PLLC offers a full range of consulting and litigation services for property tax matters. Whether it is a tough valuation issue, a tax exemption, a tax classification issue, or other property tax question, he can help you spot potential problems before they become disputes and protect your rights should litigation become necessary. Property tax litigation is fraught with traps for the unwary litigator. With his extensive experience, Mr. Severson knows how to avoid litigation’s pitfalls and maximize the likelihood success.
State and Local Tax Disputes
Mr. Severson has litigated disputes ranging from local administrative hearings to major appellate cases involving significant constitutional issues. With this broad litigation background and his detailed knowledge of Washington tax law, he can provide sound advice on whether litigation is warranted and develop and execute a litigation plan that maximizes the chance of success.
Development fees are supposed to be proportional to the impacts of a new development. But sometimes communities go overboard, imposing unwarranted, discriminatory and burdensome fees and exactions on developers. Mr. Severson knows the statutory and constitutional limits on such charges and how to challenge them when a city or county goes too far.
Class actions provide a procedure to join together claims that individually are too small to justify litigation. Class actions are, at times, the only financially feasible remedy for challenging illegal charges and exactions. Although class action procedures can be complex and difficult, Mr. Severson knows when and how they can be used to provide a remedy.
Mr. Severson's career in both private and public practice has focused on state and local tax and finance. His experience includes complex tax valuation disputes, class actions challenging state and local taxes and fees, valuation and equalization of public utility property, excise tax litigation, federal commerce clause limitations on state tax authority, taxation of leasehold estates and other partial interests in publicly-owned property, challenges to special levy tax authority, governmental financial management practices and procedures, inter-governmental tax immunity and challenges to local tax officials when they act outside the scope of their legal authority.
Mr. Severson began his practice in Washington State as a deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, where he advised and represented county officials on tax and finance matters. He is a member of the bars of Washington state, the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court.
National Association of Property Tax Attorneys (exclusive Washington State member)
Washington State Bar Association: Tax Section and State & Local Tax Subcommittee.
Institute for Professionals in Taxation, Associate Member.
International Association of Assessing Officers, Associate Member.
Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound, (past member Board of Directors).
University of Washington Economics Department Visiting Committee, Member
University of Washington, School of Law, J.D., 1974.
University of Washington, Arts & Sciences Honors College, B.A. Economics, 1971, cum laude.
Mr. Severson's substantial experience lends valuable insight in evaluating taxes and fees, considering tax planning options, and developing litigation strategies.
North Forty Lodging, LLC, dba Alderbrook Resort & Spa v. Mason County Assessor, (Wash. Bd. of Tax Appeals). Favorable decision on resort valuation appeal.
Arden Realty v. Snohomish County Assessor (Wash. Bd. of Tax Appeals); King County Assessor v. East Campus 3 (Wash. Bd. of Tax Appeals); Eastgate Bellevue Holdings v. King County (Wash. Bd. of Tax Appeals & King County Superior Court). Obtained reduced tax assessments for office buildings to reflect the value impact of exceptionally high level of vacancy.
Willows Health Holdings LLC v. King County (Wash. Bd. of Tax Appeals). Successful settlement in appeal of tax assessment for senior living facility.
Block at Ballard II, LLC v. King County (King County Superior Court). Negotiated settlement to reduce assessment to reflect impact of hazardous waste remediation requirements for property.
Cascade Bank v. Snohomish County, (King County Superior Court). Negotiated settlement with substantial assessment reductions for large residential real estate development.
Crystal Chalets & Silver Skis Condominiums v. Pierce County (King County Superior Court). Achieved substantial assessment reductions for condominiums located on tax exempt land.
Women’s University Club v. King County Assessor (Wash. Bd. of Tax Appeals). Negotiated settlement that substantially reduced clubhouse value to reflect historic property designation.
Stimson Lane v. Benton County Assessor (Wash. Bd. of Tax Appeals). Successful tax appeal that removed the taxpayer's wine barrels from the tax rolls and obtained three years of refunds.
AllianceOne Receivables Mgmt, Inc. v. Daniels Consulting Co. (Pierce County Superior Court). Associated to develop successful challenge to “program cost recovery charge” imposed on private vendor by Washington Dept. of General Administration.
Carrillo, et al. v. City of Ocean Shores. (Washington Court of Appeals Div. II). Successful class action challenge to water and sewer availability charges. Obtained substantial refunds for property owners.
The Boeing Company v. Gelman (Wash. Court of Appeals, Div. II). Successful challenge to Bd. of Tax Appeal's unlawful decision-making process.
Covell v. City of Seattle. (Washington Supreme Court). Class action challenge to constitutionality of Seattle's "Street Utility Charge" on residential housing. Court ruled charge unconstitutional and ordered refunds.
Harbour Village Apartments v. City of Mukilteo, (Washington Supreme Court). Successful class action challenge to constitutionality of Mukilteo's apartment tax. Court ruled the tax unconstitutional and ordered refunds.
United States Tobacco v. Department of Revenue (Washington Supreme Court). Challenge to Department of Revenue's measure of tobacco excise tax on smokeless tobacco products.
Inter Island Telephone Co. v. San Juan County. (Washington Supreme Court). Successfully obtained equalization relief for local public utility, the first such ratio equalization relief granted in Washington in several decades. Valuation reductions ranged from 22% to 34%.
Arborwood Idaho LLC v. City of Kennewick. (Washington Supreme Court). Challenge to municipal fee imposed on residential housing. Provided amicus curiae brief on behalf of Rental Housing Association of Puget Sound.
Samis Land Co. v. City of Soap Lake (2001) (Washington Supreme Court) . Represented amicus curiae property owners in supporting successful challenge to illegal municipal water and sewer fees.
Leonard v. City of Spokane (1995) (Washington Supreme Court). Successfully represented amici curiae PEMCO Insurance Co., Washington Education Association and Seattle Federation of Community Councils in challenge to Tax Increment Financing law ("TIF"). Court agreed that TIF was an unconstitutional diversion of state school funds.
Belas v. Kiga. (Washington Supreme Court). Represented the Washington Association of County Officials challenging the "value averaging" feature of Referendum 47. The Washington Supreme Court ruled that "value averaging" violated the tax uniformity clause of the state constitution.
King County v. King County Water Districts, (Washington Supreme Court). Represented Rental Housing Association of Washington as amicus curiae in brief submitted to Washington Supreme Court.
City of Snoqualmie v. Dow Constantine (Washington Supreme Court). Prime author of amicus brief on behalf of Muckleshoot Indian Tribe.
Publications and Presentations
Tax or Fee? A Proposed Framework for Deciding When Constitutional Tax Limitations Apply 57 Gonzaga Law Review 41 (2021/22)
“Legalization of Marijuana Use – Property Tax Impacts” IPT 2019 Property Tax Symposium and 2017 Canadian Property Tax Association Annual Workshop
“Tax Talk” monthly column for GlobeSt.com (2001-2004)
“Distinguishing Between Taxes and Fees in Covell v. City of Seattle: Don’t Tax You, Don’t Tax Me, Just Raise the Money with a Fee” Multistate Tax Reporter.
“Real Estate Excise Tax” Washington Bar Association
Annual Tax Strategy Seminars in Washington and Oregon with The Tapanen Group
“Business Enterprise Value – What? Where? When?” Panelist for Northwest Property Tax Conference
“Recent Developments in Washington Property Tax Law” Seminar presentation for Washington Society of Certified Public Accountants
“Litigating Business Valuation Issues and the Appraiser/Lawyer Relationship” Seminar presentation for American Society of Appraisers
“AWB Business Tax Seminar” Property Taxes and Intangibles
“Property Tax in Washington” and “Property Tax Strategies for the 1990’s” Seminar presentations on property tax issue
National Association of Property Tax Attorneys
Washington Department of Revenue
Washington Tax Administration Rules
Washington Board of Tax Appeals
Washington State County Assesors
How does the assessor determine the value of my property?
The procedures used by assessors for determining value vary depending upon the county in which the property is located and the type of property involved. Most assessments are set using what is called the ”mass appraisal technique.” In mass appraisal, the assessor develops a valuation algorithm to estimate value based on a set of select property characteristics that the assessor believes to be particularly relevant in estimating value. Such algorithms can be very effective in estimating values for common types of properties that have similar characteristics, but they perform poorly for properties whose values depend upon unusual characteristics that are not addressed by the algorithm’s formula. For all properties, it is critical that the property characteristics used by the assessor are accurate. It’s the old “garbage in, garbage out” problem, and if the characteristics used by the assessor misrepresent the property, it can result in a substantial overvaluation. If you have concerns that the assessor’s formula is overvaluing your property, you should check to make sure that the assessor’s data for your property is accurate.
What is the appeal deadline to challenge my property tax assessment?
It depends. In most counties in Washington an appeal must be filed with the county board of equalization by the later of: July 1, or 30 days after the “Change of Value Notice is mailed to the taxpayer by the assessor or posted to the assessor’s website if the taxpayer has elected to receive valuation changes electronically. Some counties, including King, Pierce, Clark, Thurston, & Yakima, accept appeals that are submitted within 60 days after the date of the Change of Value Notice. It is important to note that the filing period runs from the date printed on the Notice, not the date the notice is received. It is also important to note that if you believe that the prior year’s value would be excessive for the current year, you should file your appeal by July 1 because the assessor may not change that value and you may not later receive a Change of Value Notice.
When are property tax payments due?
Property taxes in Washington are administered on a two year cycle. The first year, known as the “assessment year,” is the year in which the assessed value is determined. For most properties, the valuation date is January 1 of the assessment year. For new construction, however, the assessor may set the value as of July 30 to reflect the additional value added to the property by the new construction. Taxes on that value are payable in the second year of the cycle, known as the “tax year.” Tax bills are issued on or about February 15 of the tax year and tax payments are payable in two installments, the first is due on April 30, and the second half is due on October 31. Late payment or nonpayment of taxes can result in substantial penalties and interest, so it is important to assure that tax payments are made on a timely basis.
Should I pay my property taxes under protest?
If you have any concerns regarding your assessment, I strongly recommend paying the taxes under protest. Paying under protest preserves the property owner’s right to bring a tax refund action in superior court to challenge the assessment even if appeal was filed with the county board of equalization. The protest letter must set forth the “grounds for protest,” that is, the reasons for the protest. If the taxes at issue are significant, I recommend obtaining legal advice to assure that the grounds stated in the letter are legally adequate.
If I missed the appeal deadline for appealing my tax assessment to the board of equalization, is any other remedy still open?
Yes, if you pay the tax under protest. See the discussion of payments under protest above.
If my property assessment goes up will my taxes go up too?
Not necessarily. The amount you pay in property taxes is determined by multiplying your property value by the aggregate “tax levy rate” that applies to properties in your area. The aggregate tax levy rate depends upon how much tax each taxing district is authorized to levy and the total amount of assessed value in each taxing district’s tax base. The amount of an owner’s tax is determined by multiplying the property’s assessed value by the applicable tax levy rate. The tax levy rate for each taxing district is set by dividing the total taxes authorized for the district by the total assessed value of all taxable property in the district. The aggregate tax levy rate is set by combining the levy rates for all of the districts authorized to tax the property. Thus, for example, if the property is subject to taxation by state, county, city, in school district, the Levy rates for each of those taxing districts are added together and multiplied against property value to determine the amount of tax due. If taxing district budgets go down (a rare occurrence) or if the aggregate amount of assessed value in that district increases more than the increase in your property’s value, the tax levy rate may go down to more than make up for the increase in your property’s value. In other words, even if your assessment goes up, your taxes could go down.
What property tax exemptions are available?
There are a variety of property tax exemptions provided by Washington law. They are too numerous and to various to describe in detail here. It is crucial to note, however, that virtually all of them depend on how the property is used, not just on whether it is owned by a tax exempt entity. Most tax exemptions are administered by the State Department of Revenue, and that is a good place to start if you have questions regarding whether your property qualifies for tax exemption. If the Department is unable to answer your questions to your satisfaction, I recommend seeking legal advice.
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