For many Pierce County residents, another year of sliding home values caused property tax bills to decline this year.
But not everyone will pay less.
Homeowners in the Parkland area, DuPont and on the Key Peninsula will pay more on average because of increases in local school and other levies, according to the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Office.
In Tacoma, the average tax bill declined 3.8 percent, or $109. It had increased 6 percent the year before primarily because of voter-approved increases in school and parks levies.
“The question we kept hearing for the last couple years is ‘why did my value go down yet my taxes went up?’” said Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan, in his first year in office. “We may not hear that quite as much this year. Taxes in most areas did level off.”
And he said he sees encouraging signs that they will stay flat into next year.
The assessor’s office mailed out 183,638 property tax statements Friday. Statements for the remaining 145,704 taxed properties in Pierce County, not including a handful that already paid, are being processed electronically through mortgage companies.
This year’s tax is based on last year’s assessed home values, which owners received in the mail on green postcards in June.
The assessed value of the average home in Pierce County plunged nearly 12 percent last year – the largest since the slide began in 2008, the county reported. That decline, combined with no new voter-approved levies, led to a slight drop in property taxes for many residents, Lonergan said.
When assessed values go down, tax rates increase so that the county, cities and various school, fire and other districts can generate the same revenue as the year before. These jurisdictions can also increase budgeted revenue by 1 percent without voter approval.
In the few areas where average tax bills increased, new voter-approved levies usually caused the spike.
Individual bills vary, based on a home’s assessed value and the property tax rate in that area.
The tax statements show a range of decreases and increases:
• Average property tax bills in Pacific are down $249, more than 11 percent from last year. Property taxes also dropped $203 (nearly 11 percent) in South Prairie, and $203 (7 percent) in the Spanaway area.
• Average tax bills in the Parkland area are up $185, more than 8 percent from last year. That’s primarily due to the capital levy that voters in the Franklin Pierce School District approved in 2012.
• Tax bills also jumped an average $168 (6.3 percent) in DuPont, where home values declined at a slower rate. On Key Peninsula, the average tax bill increased $109 (5.4 percent) largely because of voter-approved levies for fire and school districts.
• The lowest average tax bill in Pierce County was $1,617 in the Town of Wilkeson. The highest average tax bill in the county was $4,125 in University Place.
Lonergan, who was elected in November, said he sees positive signs as his office works on 2013 property appraisals for 2014 taxes.
“We are seeing a bottoming out and a slight upturn in property values,” Lonergan said. “Values are starting to come back up.”
Next year, he said, the story isn’t likely to be “values went down again and so tax rates went up again.”
If the trend holds, next year’s property taxes are more likely to be flat – about the same as this year’s, he said.
“Even though some told us the recession ended a couple years ago, we’re seeing it ending now as far as property values,” Lonergan said.
Every homeowner’s property tax bill includes this year’s new tax for flood control of 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The board for Pierce County’s flood-control zone district – comprised of the seven Pierce County Council members – approved the tax in November.
The combined limit for most levies cannot exceed $5.90 per $1,000 of assessed value, excluding those for the state, the Port of Tacoma and some others.
A few areas have hit that $5.90 limit. And that’s forcing three junior taxing park districts – PenMet, Key Peninsula and Anderson Island – to reduce their tax rates.
Overall, the county expects to collect $1.06 billion in property taxes in 2013. About $459 million of that – 43 percent – was approved by voters. Lonergan said about 58 percent of the money collected from all property taxes – including the state’s portion – goes to schools.
HOW TO FIND YOUR TAXES
Property-tax figures for 2013 are available now on the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s website:
• Go to co.pierce.wa.us/atr.
• Click on “parcel & sales search” on the left side.
• You can search by parcel number, if you know it, or use a street address.
• Click on the underlined parcel number when you get your search result
• Click on the taxes/values tab on the next screen. You’ll see your assessed value and taxes levied for each year going back to 2006. To obtain a breakout of the rate per $1,000 you’re paying to each taxing district, click on the blue numbers in the Tax Code Areas table on the right-hand side of the page. You can compare from year to year with that list, too.Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street @TNTstevemaynard