When Pierce County property owners get their 2015 tax bills in the mail this week, nearly all will see that they owe more than last year.
Overall, the county expects to collect $1.17 billion in property taxes in 2015. That’s a 7.7 percent increase over 2014.
Assessed property valuations have increased significantly since the recession ended, according to Mike Lonergan, Pierce County’s assessor-treasurer.
But rising property values are not the real driver behind the 2015 increase, he said.
“That’s probably the biggest misconception people have about their property taxes,” Lonergan said. “Taxes are up this year not because assessed values increased. They’re up because of the number of levies and bond issues approved by voters.”
When property values go up, tax rates go down, so the county, cities and various school, fire and other districts end up generating roughly the same revenue as the year before. Taxing districts are limited to a 1 percent increase in budgeted revenue without voter approval.
This year’s taxes are higher primarily because of capital improvement levies passed by voters in the county’s various school districts. Levies were approved in six districts last year, and voters in three other districts are still paying on previously passed levies.
In all, the amount of voter-approved school district taxes account for $486.6 million — nearly 42 percent of the total $1.17 billion calculated for 2015 collections.
Add to that the voter-approved levies and bond issues successfully floated by cities and towns, fire districts, park districts and sewer districts.
All told, Lonergan said, the average amount of a homeowner’s 2015 tax bill that was voter-approved comes to 45 percent of their total.
A Seattle-based mailing service contracted by the county will mail out 80,000 tax bills to Pierce County property owners on Tuesday. Around 130,000 more bills, owed by homeowners who have their mortgage companies handle their property taxes, will be sent to those companies electronically.
Property tax bills are already available on the Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer’s Office website. They were posted Friday.
According to Pierce County records, there are 210,073 single family residences in the county that were taxed in both 2014 and 2015.
Of those, taxes are increasing on 196,166 houses, which is 93.4 percent of all single-family residences.
Just 13,906 owners — about 6.6 percent — will see a decrease in their tax bills.
Taxes stayed exactly the same on just one house, Lonergan said.
This year’s tax is based on last year’s assessed home value, which owners received in the mail on green postcards in June.
Average assessed home values in Pierce County have climbed steadily since 2012, which marked the end of the real estate recession.
From 2007 to 2012, the average value of residential properties in the county dropped 31 percent. In 2012 alone, the average value dropped nearly 12 percent.
In 2013, the average assessed home value in Pierce County increased 2 percent, reversing the six-year slide.
This year’s tax statements show a wide range of average assessed values and taxes owed in various places in the county.
• As usual, homes in Gig Harbor and the surrounding area had the highest assessed values. The average in the city was $316,489. In the unincorporated area of the peninsula, the average was $353,877.
• Homeowners in University Place are getting the biggest tax bills. They’ll owe an average of $4,453, compared with $3,428 in the city of Gig Harbor and $4,202 on the Gig Harbor Peninsula.
• Average property tax bills in Tacoma are up $331 this year, an increase of 11.6 percent. Last year the average property tax bill in the city went up by $42, or 1.5 percent. Tacoma School District voters approved a $500 million bond measure in 2013.
• In terms of percentages, the highest increase in the county was in South Prairie, where bills are up 21.5 percent over 2014. South Prairie still has the second-lowest average single family dwelling tax in the county with an average bill of $1,820.
• Homeowners in the town of Wilkeson will receive the smallest bills in the county — just $1,617 on average.
• The only places in the county where the average tax bill went down were on the Key Peninsula and in the portion of the Yelm School District that’s in South Pierce County. Those drops were minuscule; taxes on the average single family dwelling on the Key Peninsula dropped by $3.19.