Demystifying the Move Seattle levy numbers: The main one you need is $62 per $100,000 property value.

Share story

This fall’s $930 million, nine-year transportation-levy ballot measure represents the largest property-tax request in Seattle history, so a well-informed voter ought to understand the numbers.

Start with the ballot title of Proposition 1, known as Move Seattle. It mentions a 2016 tax rate of 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $279 on a midrange, $450,000 house.

But those numbers could fluctuate. The rock-solid number is the $930 million total.

Here’s why: 62 cents is merely the city staff’s good-faith estimate of what it would take to reach $930 million, using assessor’s data and simple arithmetic. Seattle would collect that much, regardless of what happens to home values or the broader economy.

A common fallacy is that rising property values would boost your levy bill. That would happen only if your land or building value soars relative to the rest of the city.

Your Move Seattle tax rate might even decline slightly in later years if real-estate growth splits the $930 million pie into more and more pieces.

A second fallacy involves how landowners sometimes misunderstand what “value” means in this sort of levy.

The King County assessor’s office sets the official property value, and it usually lags the market. For example, in 2015 the assessor’s median value for Seattle homes was $427,000. So if the Let’s Move Seattle campaign cites a $450,000 example for 2016, that’s realistic. It doesn’t matter if Zillow pegs the median value at $513,000.

Just multiply using $62 for every $100,000 of your home value, as listed on that white card you get from the assessor’s office, to get a general idea. If the levy passes, actual rates wouldn’t be calculated by the assessor’s office until December for next year.

The Move Seattle levy would cost property owners about twice the amount of the current Bridging the Gap levy, which expires this year.

City staff are trying to calibrate Move Seattle for consistency, year-by-year. The new levy would collect $95 million in 2016, escalating 2.1 percent annually, to match increases in the city’s taxable property.

Bridging the Gap levy rates fluctuated between $27 and $35 per $100,000 value while the recession came and went, settling this year at $30.

Bottom line?

Volatile property values shouldn’t make much difference.

What matters is the basic bill for property owners, which could also trickle down to renters or business customers. And also, of course, whether you think the projects are worth the investment.