The Auditor, in his capacity as commissioner of forfeited and delinquent lands, is hereby authorized to compromise all claims of the state against all real property, including undivided interests therein, which, heretofore, may have been exempted from taxation and carried upon the land books of any county as tax-exempt property, or which may have been exempted from taxation as religious, charitable or educational property regardless of the form of assessment or entry insofar as the state may now have any claim thereto and the property, or any part thereof, or interest therein has not been transferred to others by operation of section 3, article XIII of the Constitution of West Virginia, upon payment to him of the sum of $1 for each year that any parcel, lot, tract or interest, heretofore exempted as aforesaid, may have been exempted or carried as exempt property upon the land books of any county prior to the year one thousand nine hundred forty-five. The Auditor, as such commissioner, is hereby authorized to establish and provide administrative procedure for handling of such cases; and to design, procure and keep and maintain such records concerning his transactions under this article as sound business practice may demand, and charge the cost thereof to appropriations for the operation of his office and the proceeds of redemption hereunder.
The Auditor shall issue his receipt for redemptions made under the preceding section. Such receipt shall operate as a full and complete discharge and release of the property described therein from any and all claims on account of direct property taxes imposed or imposable by the State of West Virginia, or any of its subdivisions, or agencies of every kind and character for each and every year covered by such receipt, and shall release and return to the owner of the property described such title as may have been in the state at the time such receipt is issued free and acquit of all claims of the state, or any of its subdivisions for the year or years covered by such receipt. Such receipts shall be recordable in the deed books of the proper counties, and once recorded shall constitute notice to all persons of the facts recited therein.
In every case where the Auditor provides for redemption under this article he shall, where such redemption is made prior to January 1, 1947, direct the assessor to enter and back-tax such property, as other property should be entered and back-taxed for the assessment year 1945 and each and every year thereafter in which the same has not properly appeared upon the land books of such county. In those cases where redemption is made after January 1, 1947, he shall extend and collect taxes at proper valuations and rates for all assessment years after the year 1945. No compromise shall be made under the authority of this article for direct property taxes for the year 1945 or thereafter: Provided, however, That nothing herein contained shall prevent the Auditor from redetermining value and taxes for the year 1945 and thereafter in the manner otherwise provided for by law in case of redemption of property which may have been sold to the state for nonpayment of taxes, or be delinquent, or forfeit for nonentry.
In every case where real property was acquired for and transferred to or placed in religious, educational or charitable usages after the assessment year one thousand nine hundred forty- two and was improperly exempted (under the holding of Central Realty Company versus Martin, assessor), the assessor shall reenter such property and value and extend taxes thereupon for the assessment year one thousand nine hundred forty-five, without regard to the former exemption in those cases where redemption has been made from the Auditor. Taxes extended upon such assessment shall be valid and enforceable as all other taxes without regard to the former exemptions. Entry and payment of taxes hereunder shall operate to relive such property against the assertion of any forfeiture which has not become effective prior to the effective date of this article, and shall stand and at all times be construed as a valid entry of such property for taxation for the year or years involved, and payment of taxes under such assessment shall discharge and relieve such property from all claims of the state and its subdivisions for all property taxes of any such year or years.
The Auditor is empowered to direct the assessor of each county to examine the lists of tax-exempt properties appearing on the land books of his county for the assessment years one thousand nine hundred twenty-eight through one thousand nine hundred forty-five, both inclusive, and report to the Auditor a list of all real estate so exempted from taxation in any of said years which was not actually used for religious, charitable or educational purposes and which (under the opinion in Central Realty Company versus Martin, assessor) he believes should have been assessed with taxes in any of said years. No assessor shall reenter any real property, now or formerly held for religious, charitable or educational usages and upon which taxes for years prior to the year one thousand nine hundred forty-five should have been paid except upon written directions from the Auditor or by order of the judge of a court of record which has jurisdiction to deal with such property or rights therein. Such list shall show the name of the person assessed, a description of the property, and the year or years for which the same was entered on the land books as tax exempt, and the assessor shall classify and value the same. Where any list of real property is forwarded to the Auditor under this section he shall have power and authority to compromise the claim of the state or its subdivisions or agencies for taxes, to accept redemptions from forfeitures, and to do all acts and things which may be necessary to protect the interest of the state and assist the property owner in clearing his title.
In all cases where property formerly held for religious, charitable or educational usages has heretofore been sold or transferred in good faith to persons for value as successors in title of the person who held for such usage, and has been subsequently assessed to them and taxes have been paid thereon for such number of years that such persons are or would otherwise be entitled to claim the benefit of a transfer under section 3, article XIII of the Constitution, the same, by operation hereof, shall be transferred to and vested in such person, and the state hereby waives its claim to assert penalties or forfeiture on account of any taxes which would otherwise have accrued or become due prior to the creation of color of title in such successor.
In all cases where property formerly held for the uses aforesaid has heretofore been sold or transferred to another in good faith and has subsequently been assessed to him and the taxes paid, for a period of time less than the period of time necessary to establish the right to claim the benefit of a transfer under said Constitutional provision or this section, the owners shall have the right to apply for and have redemption so far as title thereto may be in the state.
The provisions of this article shall not extend to or affect any real property or undivided interest therein which has been transferred to or vested in adverse claimants by operation of Constitution, article XIII, section 3, in those cases where the color of title of such claimants originated in good faith and has been regularly maintained and protected against subsequent forfeiture and loss by entry and payment of taxes according to law: Provided, however, That in any case where there has been a Constitutional transfer and the adverse claim has subsequently been acquired by the state for nonpayment or nonentry, the successor in title to the former religious, charitable or educational usage shall have a prior right of redemption.
This article is to provide for clarification of land titles and for establishment of a sound system of property law and of taxation, and the courts of this state which have equitable jurisdiction are hereby vested with authority, power and jurisdiction to entertain, hear and decide suits on behalf of any person whose property or title may be affected by a former exemption from taxation for religious, charitable or educational purposes; and to make and render such decisions, orders and decrees as will give equitable justice to the persons involved. Whenever it appears that the state or any of its subdivisions has any interest in any of such proceedings any person or the court shall have the right to make the state, its subdivisions, or proper officials a party or parties plaintiff thereto and shall cause the Attorney General of the State of West Virginia to be notified thereof. Such courts shall have the right to try title and render decisions as may be necessary and proper, based upon the tax status of different claims without regard to proof of chain of title for a period longer than is necessary to establish a tax claim better than that of any other party. No decision, order or opinion rendered by any court under this article shall establish precedent or be regarded as stare decisis as to any other case.
The Auditor shall have full power and authority to provide for redemption of property covered by this article, and to compromise the state's claim for unpaid taxes upon any such property which has heretofore been purchased at sales for nonpayment of taxes, or acquired by forfeiture for nonentry, to make redemptions, and to provide for reassessment and back-taxing of property redeemed on account of any taxes heretofore levied or hereafter to accrue; such redemptions and compromises to be made upon like payment and condition as provided in section one of this article for any year prior to the year one thousand nine hundred thirty-six.