Op-Ed: Why are my property taxes so high?

If you are a property owner, you’ve probably received this year’s property tax bill by now. And if you are like most property owners, you’re wondering why your tax bill is so high.

Property taxes, assessments and levy limits are often very confusing and frustrating. To help you understand the complicated issue of property taxes, I’ve prepared the following list of frequently asked questions.

Q:   Why have my property taxes increased by more than the 1 percent limit?

A:   The 1 percent limit voters approved in 2001 through Initiative 747, which was overturned by the state Supreme Court in November 2007 and then re-instated by the Legislature three weeks later, is frequently misunderstood. I-747 limits the increase in total taxing district levy amounts to 1 percent each year, plus additional amounts for new construction. It does not limit the amount of tax paid on individual properties or the rate at which assessed values may increase. Additionally, voter-approved levies (such as school district maintenance and operation levies) are not subject to this limitation. So, it is possible for an individual’s property tax statement to reflect an increase of more than 1 percent.

Q:   How is my property tax bill determined?

A:   Your property tax bill is based on the assessed value of your property and the different tax levies. The county assessor determines market value of all properties in the district as of Jan. 1, and comes up with a taxable value which takes into account any exemptions or alternative valuation schedules. Then, taxing districts set their budget amounts (levies) and the assessor calculates the necessary tax rate. Dividing your property value by $1,000 and multiplying that by the tax rate determines your total property tax bill, which is collected by the county treasurer in the following year after the assessment. For example, your 2011 property tax bill is based on the assessed value as of Jan. 1, 2010.

Q:   Why am I still paying higher property taxes even though the assessed value of my home has decreased?

A:   The tax rate fluctuates with property values. For example, the average statewide property tax rate in 2009 was $9.41 per $1,000 of assessed value. As property values went down, the tax rate in 2010 increased to $10.28 per $1,000 of value. As property values have declined, you may expect your property tax bill to follow suit, but some taxing districts can increase the tax rate to compensate for some of that lost value. It is possible for your property tax bill to remain close to or even increase with the lower property value.

Q: Why are some levies higher than the 1 percent limit?

A: Voters can approve property taxes higher than the 1 percent limit. These levies have increased steadily in recent years. In 2010, about 36 percent of the total amount of property taxes collected statewide consisted of voter-approved levies.

Q: Do I have any recourse if I dispute the assessed value listed for my property?

A: If you disagree with the county assessor’s assessed value of your property, you may file an appeal with the county Board of Equalization. The deadline for filing an appeal is July 1 of the assessment year, or within 30 days of when the Change of Value Notice was mailed by the assessor’s office, whichever is later. Certain counties extend the filing deadline to 60 days. Check with your county Board of Equalization for your filing deadline.

On my Web site, you will find more details about property taxes, including available tax relief for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Go to houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. Look for the button that says “Click here for Property Tax Q&A.”

Also, your county assessor’s office will have more information about your property tax bill, so be sure to give that office a call.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus and represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him through his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000