When you open your property tax bill this week, expect to see a bigger number on the bottom line. Unless you live in Buckley.
Buckley residents aren’t the only Pierce County property owners who will see lower taxes this year, said Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan. But the city is the only one of 23 Pierce County communities where the average property tax bill will be down. Countywide, more than four of five property owners will see increases this year.
Those growing tax bills, up some 5.6 percent on average compared with last year’s 3.28 percent average increase, are being propelled by higher home values and voter-approved levies. Home values in Pierce County last year rose by 10.1 percent, and voters approved 23 special levies.
Buckley’s good fortune is courtesy of the White River School District, whose territory covers Buckley. The district’s capital projects levy expired last year.
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Property tax bills will go in the mail early next week to homeowners and mortgage companies who pay property taxes on behalf of their customers. Those bills also will be available online at the assessor-treasurer’s website. The first half tax property tax payment is due May 1 and the second half is due Oct. 31.
Property tax collections in 2017 are expected to total some $1.27 billion, up about $90.2 million over 2016. The lion’s share of those collections will support schools. Other major beneficiaries of those tax dollars will be the state (which uses much of that money for school funding), Pierce County, cities and towns and fire districts. Property taxes also support libraries, the Port of Tacoma, several park districts, road construction and maintenance, flood control and transit.
While state law limits most local governmental entities to a 1 percent annual increase, the average 2017 tax bill is up 5.6 percent in large measure because of voter-approved levies. Voters in 13 school districts approved excess levies to finance education. Fire protection and emergency medical services levies also won voter approval in 11 fire districts and towns.
Residents in three Puget Sound counties in November approved the nearly $54 billion Sound Transit 3 public transit extension program. Part of that money will be raised by a levy of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For a $300,000 home, that tax will add $75 to a homeowner’s tax bill.
“Pierce County voters did not approve ST3 here,” said Lonergan. “But the total vote in Pierce, King and Snohomish counties was what determined whether the measure passed.”
The assessor-treasurer noted that just because home values increased by 10.1 percent last year in Pierce County, doesn’t mean that property taxes will increase by the same percentage.
The total property tax bill is determined by the governments’ budgets, which are limited to 1 percent annual increases and by any additional voter-approved taxes. The grand total of property tax collections also increases because of new home and commercial construction.
According to the county, the greatest 2017 average property tax dollar increase among areas completely in Pierce County will occur in Bonney Lake, where single-family dwelling owners will pay on average $423 more this year. Homeowners in the Pierce County portion of Auburn will pay some $850 more in property taxes this year.
The Bonney Lake increase, 11.36 percent, was largely the result of three voter-approved levies: East Pierce Fire and Rescue’s “lid lift” measure for fire services, a Sumner School District levy, and the 25-cents-per-$1,000 increase imposed to finance Sound Transit service improvements.
Milton had the highest percentage tax increase, 13.20 percent or $376 for the average homeowner. The reasons for the increase were similar to Bonney Lake’s: the East Pierce Fire and Rescue levy, the Sound Transit tax measure and a Fife School District capital improvements levy.
Buckley will see the only average property tax decline, about $8.10 per home. Gig Harbor, with the highest average in-city home value in Pierce County, $407,347, will see only a 1.62 percent increase, or $63.78, per home.
The highest average property tax bills in Pierce County will be levied on property owners in unincorporated Gig Harbor Peninsula. That area has the only average property tax bills in excess of $5,000 in Pierce County at $5,095. The lowest average property tax bills will go to residents in the former mining town of Carbonado. They will pay an average of $2,182.
The county’s highest property tax rates are in Tacoma, where owners pay $16.08 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed value. Gig Harbor has the lowest property tax rate, $9.80 per $1,000.
Property owners who think their 2017 taxes are too high have missed their chance to appeal, said Lonergan. Taxpayers may appeal their property tax valuations only, not their property tax bills, when those valuation figures are sent to them in June.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663
Fact sheet: Pierce County 2017 property taxes
Average property tax increase: 5.6 percent.
Average property value increase: 10.1 percent.
Highest average single family taxes: $5,095.45 on the Gig Harbor Peninsula.
Lowest average single family taxes: $2,182.54 in Carbonado.
Highest property tax rate: $16.08 per $1,000 of assessed value in Tacoma.
Lowest property tax rate: $9.80 per $1,000 in Gig Harbor.
Total Pierce County 2017 property tax collections: $1.27 billion.
Total Pierce County 2016 property tax collections: $1.18 billion.