County Court of Braxton County v. West Virginia ex rel. Dillon
Sections 7 and 8, article 10, of the West Virginia Constitution of 1872, prohibit the county authorities, except in certain specified cases, from levying taxes in excess of 95 cents per $100 valuation. In 1904 the valuation of property in Braxton county was $2,799,604. The state legislature, at an extraordinary session in 1904 and the regular session of 1905, changed the statute law in respect to taxation, largely remodeling the entire tax system. One of the objects of such legislation was to secure a more correct valuation of property. In 1906, under this new legislation, the assessed value of the property in Braxton county was $10,195,301, nearly four times the amount of the assessment in 1904. In view of an expected increase in valuation the legislature enacted chapter 48 of the Acts of 1905 (Code of West Va., 1906, chap. 39, § 29), by which it was provided that no county court should, in the year 1906, assess or levy taxes which should exceed by more than 7 per cent the aggregate amount of taxes levied by it in the year 1904. The levy made in the county of Braxton in 1904 of 95 cents on the $100 valuation produced the sum of $26,596.23, subject, of course, to such minor reductions as might come from delinquencies and exonerations. Therefore, under the act of 1905, the amount which the county court could levy in 1906 was the $26,596.23 plus an addition of not to exceed 7 per cent, or $1,861.73, making a total of $28,457.96. To raise this amount a levy of not to exceed 28 cents on each $100 was sufficient. The county court, however, made a levy of 65 cents on every $100, and caused it to be entered upon the records of the court. Such levy of 65 cents would produce the sum of $66,269.45, more than double the amount which was authorized under the legislation of 1905. Thereupon the state tax commissioner and certain residents and taxpayers of Braxton county applied to the supreme court of the state for a mandamus to compel the county court to change that assessment to conform to the requirements of the act of 1905. The county court made answer and return to the alternative writ of mandamus, pleading that the amount necessary during the current fiscal year to pay the necessary expenses, discharge the county debts and liabilities payable during that year, was at least $57,146, not including an amount for interest and sinking fund of certain railroad bonds theretofore legally issued by the county. In other words, it may be said, in a general way, that the defense of the county court was that the sum authorized to be levied by the act of 1905 was insufficient to meet the ordinary expenses of the county, pay the interest, and provide a sinking fund for outstanding bonds. It was pleaded specifically that at the time these railroad bonds were issued there was not only no restriction upon the power of the county court to levy taxes for payment of the principal and interest thereof, but, on the contrary, that the general statutory law in force required the county to levy a tax in amount sufficient to pay the annual interest and provide a sinking fund. It was contended that these provisions entered into and became a part of the contract with the bondholders, and that the restrictions made by the act of 1905 worked an impairment of the obligation of the contract, and hence it was in conflict with § 10 of article 1 of the Federal Constitution.
The supreme court of appeals issued the mandamus as prayed for, whereupon the defendants brought the case here on error.
Mr. George E. Price for Plaintiffs in error.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 194-196 intentionally omitted]
Mr. W. Mollohan for defendants in error.
Mr. Justice Brewer:delivered the opinion of the court: