We asked Seattle Times readers for their stories about how this year’s big property-tax increase is affecting their lives. We got plenty of replies — and lots of questions about the new, higher tax rates. Read our Q&A below.
Last month, we asked Seattle Times readers to share personal stories on how a big property-tax increase is affecting their lives.
Readers had plenty to say. We received hundreds of responses through email, phone calls and Facebook.
“I voted no on the school levies for the first time in my life … I am fed up!” said Yvette Cardozo, 73, who has lived for 30 years in a house in the Tiger Mountain area of unincorporated King County.
Property taxes for Cardozo and her husband went up nearly $500 for the year, and she said she’s not seeing adequate road maintenance or other services from county government. “I don’t mind paying as long as I get services,” she said.
Jeannie Lee and her husband bought a house near Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood in 1972 for $26,500. It’s now valued at more than $1.2 million. When they worked, the taxes were affordable. As retirees on a fixed income, they’re in a bind, with taxes that shot up more than $1,500 this year.
“We are raising two teenage grandchildren, so selling and downsizing is not an option. We need relief from both rising property assessments, and increases in property taxes,” she wrote in an email. “HELP!!!”
We heard from many others in similar situations, some saying they feel like they may be forced to sell their homes and leave the area. Others said the tax spike is reason to reexamine Washington’s regressive tax system.
We are planning an in-depth look at some of those personal stories in the coming days.
A sample of property-tax increases in King County cities
Meanwhile, here are answers to some of the many questions readers had about what’s causing the property-tax spike, and whether any relief is on the horizon:
Question: How much are property taxes going up?
Answer: To use a technical term, a lot. Property taxes this year are up about 17 percent on average in King County, according to Assessor John Wilson. That will add about $800 to the tax bill on a median-valued ($509,000) home in the county compared with a median-valued ($450,000) home last year. That’s the largest one-year increase on record. In Pierce County, the average tax bill is up 11.5 percent. In Snohomish County, 16 percent.
The tax bills vary widely city to city, due to Washington’s complex system of more than 1,700 overlapping taxing districts.
In King County, Carnation is seeing the largest increase — 31 percent, or more than $1,000 on the median assessed-value home ($379,000), compared with a median-valued property last year.
Normandy Park has the smallest rise, with the tax on a median-valued home ($559,000) up 9 percent, or nearly $670. In Seattle, the median-valued home of $597,000 will see an increase of 16.9 percent, or about $825, over last year.
Looked at another way, total countywide property-tax billings will rise to $5.6 billion in 2018, up from $4.8 billion last year — an increase of $800 million. That’s more than double last year’s countywide increase of $357 million.
Q: Why is the bite so big for 2018?
A: While voter-approved levies and rising home values play a significant role, the biggest factor is a boost in spending on public schools.
The Legislature passed the plan last year in an effort to comply with the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling, which found the state has shirked its constitutional duty to pay for public schools.
The solution that lawmakers came up with included a so-called property-tax swap, which increases the state’s property-tax levy for schools to $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from $1.89 in 2017. The plan also will reduce local school levies, thus ensuring state dollars fund the full cost of everything deemed basic education.
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But here’s the twist: Lawmakers raised the state tax for 2018, while delaying the reduction in local levies until 2019. That means everyone gets a tax increase this year.
Also — and this gets in the weeds — the additional state schools tax was written into law as a fixed-rate increase, meaning the tax rises directly with every property’s assessed value. That’s a change from past practice, and it required a four-year suspension of a law that limits increases in overall state property-tax collections to 1 percent per year.
“The amount you are going to pay is now tied to your assessed value — and it will be that way for four years,” said Snohomish County Assessor Linda Hjelle.
In King County, the Legislature’s tax increase accounts for about two-thirds of this year’s increase in property taxes, according to the assessor’s office.
Q: Who is responsible for this? Democrats? Republicans?
A. It had bipartisan support, but more Republicans (57) than Democrats (41) voted for the education-funding measure, House Bill 2242, when it passed the Legislature in 2017. Voting no were 31 Democrats and 12 Republicans. The measure was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.
The split makes political sense when you consider the new law is projected to cut property taxes over the next few years in many poorer and rural school districts — which tend to be represented by Republicans. Taxes will remain higher in richer areas, such as Seattle, Bellevue and Mercer Island.
Q: Were other options on the table besides raising the property tax?
A: Yes. Inslee and other Democrats have proposed taxing capital-gains income for wealthier households, as well as carbon emissions, to fund schools. But those proposals have not gained enough traction in the Legislature.
Q: What’s the impact on renters?
A: There’s no simple answer. It’s a “case-by-case situation,” according to Sean Martin, executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Washington. Although the property tax is an expense that is likely to be passed on, the rental market has been softening some lately, so landlords must weigh how much they can raise rents and still stay competitive.
William Shadbolt, who owns 11 rental houses and duplexes in Renton and Seattle, said taxes rose 12 to 20 percent on those properties. He estimates that will translate into rent increases of 8 to 12 percent. “You are seeing significant impacts,” Shadbolt said.
Neil Wilson, who owns seven rentals on Beacon Hill, said his property taxes have more than doubled since 2015. He’ll raise rents at least $34 a month to keep pace.
“They’re not going to like it, but if they look at our rents compared to other rents around Seattle, especially the larger complexes, they should be OK,” Wilson said.
Q: Where does my property-tax money go?
A: The largest share of state and local property taxes in King County — about 57 percent — goes to public schools.
Smaller slices go to cities, county government, Sound Transit, fire districts and libraries. [See chart]
Q: Aren’t many property taxes the result of voter-approved levies?
A: Yes. In some areas of King County, such levies make up about half of a typical property-tax bill, according to the assessor’s office.
Q: How much more money is going to schools?
A: The school-funding plan approved by the Legislature in 2017 added $7.3 billion over four years to state public schools spending. That was offset by a reduction of about $3 billion in local levies.
That means annual per-pupil funding for the state will rise to $13,545 by 2020-21 — up nearly $2,000 over 2016-17 levels, according to the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction.
Q: How high are our property taxes compared with other states?
A: Even before this year, King County has seen some of the steepest property-tax increases in the nation, fueled by the red-hot housing market, which has pushed median single-family home prices to a record $777,000 in Seattle, and $950,000 on the Eastside.
Still, the effective property-tax rate locally has remained lower than in many parts of the country. A 2017 analysis by ATTOM Data Solutions found Seattle’s property-tax rate ranked 133rd out of 217 metro areas.
A 2016 report by the Tax Foundation found Washington had the 26th-highest property-tax rate (0.94 percent) among the states. That compared with the highest rate of 2.11 percent in New Jersey.
It remains to be seen how the new taxes in Washington will change its rankings.
Q: Can I appeal my taxes?
A: No. But you can appeal the assessor’s valuation of your home. Appeals to the King County Board of Equalization must be filed by July 1 or within 60 days of receiving notification of your assessment. About 5,000 King County property owners appealed their valuations last year — down from a peak of more than 13,000 in 2008.
Q: Didn’t the Legislature just cut property taxes some?
A: Yes. In the recently concluded session, state lawmakers agreed to a one-time cut in the state portion of the property tax for 2019. That means the state property tax will be reduced to $2.40 per $1,000 per assessed value, down from $2.70 this year.
Even with the cut, the state tax will still remain higher than the $1.89 per $1,000 assessed value rate in 2017.
The exact impact on your taxes will depend on local levies where you live, and won’t be known until taxes are calculated next year.
Q: Is there a tax exemption for senior citizens or disabled people on fixed incomes?
A: Yes. But it’s restrictive. Here is who qualifies:
• People 61 years old as of Dec. 31 of last year, with annual household incomes of $40,000 or less, who own and occupy a house, mobile home, condo or co-op.
• People who are retired because of disability, or veterans with a 100 percent service-connected disability.
• Widows, widowers or state-registered domestic partners at least 57 years old whose spouse or registered domestic partner had a tax exemption at the time of death.
There also are programs to defer taxes for some other low-income homeowners. For information, call 206-296-3920 or click here »