Property tax bills will inch up for many in Pierce County

Average bill will rise by $33; Orting residents will see highest average increase

steve.maynard@thenewstribune.comFebruary 9, 2014 

Sixty percent of Pierce County homeowners will pay more in property taxes this year. The remaining 40 percent will pay less than last year.

But the change will be slight for many taxpayers.

Countywide, the average tax bill for a single-family residence increased by $33 — or 1 percent — from $3,299 last year to $3,332 this year.

“Basically, we’re not changing a lot,” said Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan. “The big picture has stayed fairly flat.”

A vendor for the assessor’s office will mail out 181,863 property tax statements Friday, but you can already look up your property tax online at the Assessor-Treasurer’s website (co.pierce.wa.us/atr).

Nearly all of the remaining 151,480 statements are being processed electronically this week through mortgage companies.

If your bill went up, it’s due to voters approving levy or bond increases in the last 12 months or your home’s assessed value went up more than average for your area, Lonergan said.

But if your home’s value dropped more than others and there were no levy or bond increases, then your bill decreased.

A year ago, tax bills declined for most in the county, primarily due to a nearly 12 percent plunge in average assessed home values in 2012.

Individual bills vary based on a home’s assessed value and the property tax rate in that area.

Homeowners in Lakewood, Spanaway and Orting will pay more this year because of voter-approved levy or bond increases for fire districts.

Tacoma residents on average will pay slightly more than last year.

The biggest decreases are in the outlying East Pierce County areas of Carbonado, Eatonville, South Prairie and Wilkeson, primarily because their assessed home values fell sharply.

This year’s tax is based on last year’s assessed home values, which homeowners received on green postcards in June.

For 2013, the average assessed home value in Pierce County increased 2 percent, halting a long, steep slide. From 2007 to 2012, the average value of a residential property in Pierce County plummeted a total of 31 percent.

This year’s tax statements show a range of decreases and increases for single-family residences:

• Average property tax bills in Tacoma are up by $42, an increase of 1.5 percent. Last year, the average bill declined 3.8 percent, or $109.

Average assessed home values in Tacoma increased nearly 3.5 percent. Last February, voters in the Tacoma School District approved a $500 million bond to rebuild or remodel 14 schools with a 31-year payback period. However, in part because of the refinancing of bonds, the School District’s tax rate decreased from $7.92 per $1,000 of assessed valuation last year to $7.76 this year, Lonergan said.

• Average tax bills in Lakewood are up by $183, or 6.3 percent, in part due to a voter-approved maintenance and operation levy for West Pierce Fire & Rescue. That fire district includes University Place, where the average tax increased $70, or 1.7 percent.

• In the Spanaway area, the average tax jumped by 7 percent, or $183. Voters approved a new bond for Central Pierce Fire & Rescue.

• Orting’s average tax bill increased by 7.5 percent, or $173. Orting voters approved a new maintenance and operation levy for Orting Valley Fire & Rescue.

• In Puyallup, the average property tax went down by 0.4 percent, or $10. Puyallup voters turned down a $279.6 million school bond measure last February that would have increased tax collections.

• The average property tax in the Town of Wilkeson fell by 11.2 percent, or $181, despite voter-approved measures for fire protection and emergency medical services. Those rate increases were more than offset by the 18 percent drop in an average home’s value in Wilkeson, population 485.

• Wilkeson’s average tax bill of $1,436 was the lowest in Pierce County. The highest average property tax was $4,195 in University Place.

The average property tax rate for the entire county fell by 20 cents to $15.17 per $1,000 of assessed property value compared to last year’s rate.

The state Department of Revenue has said Pierce County’s average property tax rate last year was the highest in Washington. It’s too soon to know if Pierce County’s rate for this year will again be the state’s highest.

Overall, the county expects to collect $1.08 billion in property taxes in 2014. About $507 million of that (47 percent) was approved by voters. About 57 percent of the money collected from all property taxes — including the state’s portion — goes to schools.

Homeowners should start receiving their property tax bills in the mail Saturday.

Lonergan said his office is taking extra steps to make sure there are no mistakes in this year’s bills.

Last year, most of the property tax bills mailed out were missing the return address on payment stubs. The Seattle-based vendor that produced the tax statements left off the return address as a result of converting to a new computer system, Lonergan said.

A half-dozen or more people in the Assessor-Treasurer’s Office, including Lonergan himself, failed to catch the error.

This year, Lonergan said his office created a check list “of everything we could think of that could possibly go wrong” with the tax statements. Five people in his office have reviewed the statement proofs from the same vendor to make sure there are no errors, he said.

HOW TO FIND YOUR TAXES

Property-tax figures for 2014 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 2007. 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
@TNTstevemaynard

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