Clear Fog Blog

Political musings from Warren E. Peterson

Property Values Down, Taxes Going Up, Huh!

Posted by Warren Peterson on February 18, 2011

We the voters support Tim Eyman’s tax controlling initiatives but at the same time vote for special levies on property to support libraries, parks and schools plus a host of other items from Emergency Medical Response to fire and sewer districts. There are political constituencies for each of these services and indeed, most all of them provide a desirable or necessary public benefit.

Voters tell the Legislature by initiative we want smaller class sizes in schools, we want cool stuff like light rail, we want more parks, we want new libraries, we want, we want, we want. The problem is after we get more parkland, bigger libraries and the rest of the “we wants,” they have to be paid for, including maintenance and operations.

Each levy we pass is for a fixed dollar amount, which is spread across the assessed value of the taxing district. Like a home mortgage, the payment remains the same regardless of the current value of the house. If however, there were two or more homeowners paying the mortgage, such as with a co-op apartment building, then the payments would be allocated to each homeowner based on the value of each home in the co-op. Changes in the assessed value of each home and/or an addition to the mortgage amount would cause an increase or decrease in each owner’s share of the mortgage payment. It’s the same concept for property taxes. For a simplified look at how property taxes work, see the property tax tutorial prepared by Stevens County Assessor Al Taylor.

Property tax collections to pay for local government such as King County or the Port of Seattle are not directly approved by the voters. In these cases, elected officials of the government entity set a percentage of the total assessed valuation for its tax revenue. They may raise the tax rate each year within certain limits. It is these limits that Eyman seeks to control along with other restrictions on taxation and spending. But for the special levies Pogo was right, it’s us. It’s us too when we elect free spending politicians to office.

Two other factors affect property taxes. There is a year lag in assessed valuation so for instance, the 2012 tax bill will be based on the assessed value as of January 1, 2011. Also, the law requires a physical site inspection once every six years with about one sixth of all properties done each year. Values may change in the interim using home sales and other data.

Whether excise, income, property or other tax extractions from our pockets, we all have a duty to help pay for the costs of a civil society. The question is can we afford the desirable and at what level the necessary?

Cross posted on: Sound Politics

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