Raise your hand if you enjoy paying property taxes. What, no hands?
Let me rephrase the question: Do you want your neighborhood to have schools, streets, police and fire protection, parks and libraries?
Later this week, I will send out tax statements to collect $1.4 billion from Pierce County property owners during 2018. That’s a huge amount of money, but remember it’s divided among dozens of local taxing districts, plus the state school fund.
It’s an understatement to say people are interested in property taxes this year. Property values have climbed fast the last couple of years, and the structure of school funding is changing, too.
County assessors like me want to help people understand how their tax bill is determined. (And no, a dart board is not involved.)
Responding to the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on school funding, our Legislature last year created a new tax, known as the second state school levy. It will be imposed for the first time this year, increasing every property tax bill in Pierce County by about $1.03 per $1,000 of value.
So there’s a spike in 2018 property taxes because of the new state levy. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the decrease in local school operating levies, which this new state levy is designed to replace, doesn’t occur until 2019.
It’s too early to know for sure, but the school portion of property tax bills should actually go down next year.
But for now, the new tax will be imposed on top of recently voted rate increases in some cities, fire and park districts. (Nearly half of your property tax bill is the result of “yes” votes on ballot issues.)
The average homeowner in Pierce County will see an increase of 11.5 percent in this year’s tax bill, compared to 2017. That’s why I want to get the word out early, to reduce “sticker shock.”
Every state has a property tax. It’s vital to the services of local government. Here in Washington, businesses pay property taxes at exactly the same rate per $1,000 value as their residential neighbors in each taxing district. Schools especially depend on property taxes, both for ongoing operations and for major construction projects.
Unlike most states, Washington has no income tax. There are those who say the way to decrease property taxes is to add a state income tax, capital gains tax and/or carbon tax. I encourage a wait-and-see attitude, at least until 2020; by then the future of school funding should be much clearer.
What about the 23 future levies and bond issues requested by 13 school districts around Pierce County in this Tuesday’s election? I regret that the explanatory materials from many districts made no mention of the context of this year’s election.
They informed voters that local operating levies would decrease significantly in 2019 and future years, often without explaining that you will also pay an additional state tax for education from now on.
Some districts are asking for only an operating levy of $1.50 per $1,000 in value, the maximum allowed beginning in 2019 under current law. Others are asking the voters to approve more, in hopes of convincing the Legislature to raise this ceiling on local levies before it even takes effect. It’s up to you to decide.
Right now, 2018 taxes are posted on the Assessor-Treasurer’s website (www.piercecountywa.org/atr) for over 300,000 parcels of property in Pierce County. You may look yours up, either by address or parcel number.
And this year, I recommend you do it sitting down.
Mike Lonergan is in his second term as the elected Assessor-Treasurer of Pierce County. He’s a former Tacoma City Council member and former director of the Tacoma Rescue Mission.