Some King County residents may see double-digit increases on property-tax bills being mailed this week.
That’s just the beginning. Regional officials are mulling five possible tax measures that could collect billions more for buses, rural roads, arts, homelessness and Harborview Medical Center. That’s in addition to a dozen school levy and bond proposals, and the Auburn-area fire authority levy lift, voted on Tuesday.
Fortunately, limited-income seniors, disabled homeowners and veterans are getting a break, with a more generous property-tax exemption taking effect this year. This change is past due and needs to be communicated broadly, so everyone eligible is aware of the opportunity.
This is happening because of a legislative change last year. Instead of a fixed $40,000 income limit for participants, the program is now indexed to counties’ median income every five years. If median incomes rise, more people will be eligible for tax exemptions.
In King County, this raised the threshold to $58,423 this year. Income limits are rising in 13 of the state’s 39 counties. In Snohomish County, the level is now $55,473, in Pierce it’s $45,708 and Kitsap’s is $48,574. Seniors are defined as those 61 and older.
King County Assessor John Wilson is doing good work raising awareness and increasing accessibility of exemptions, but more can be done in his county and other areas.
The changes increased the number of eligible property owners in King County from an estimated 37,000 to around 80,000. Yet only 16,000 currently take advantage of the program.
In other words, only 20% of eligible seniors, disabled homeowners and veterans are getting tax breaks available to them. Wilson said the savings can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
For those qualifying, reductions are based on income, property value and levy rates. The program freezes property value, so residents don’t face tax increases from rising values. These residents are also exempt from excess levies and part two of the state school levy. Depending on income, portions of regular levies may also be exempted.
There is no shame in taking advantage of these senior discounts. They are less of a handout than many corporations and developers receive in Washington.
The public cost is relatively minor — an estimated $20 million in lost revenue for the state and $3.8 million for local governments this biennium. Other taxpayers will cover that through slightly higher taxes. Wilson estimates it will increase the average homeowners’ tax bill around $10.
Applying is also easier, since the legislation authorized online applications. In King County, residents can apply online at senior-exemption.kingcounty.gov. Check websites of other assessors to learn about this and other exemption programs.
Future Legislatures should consider whether to adjust income thresholds more frequently.
In the meantime, public officials, friends and families should spread the word that more people are eligible for these savings.