Tax season is here and homeowners in the region are receiving their property tax bills in their mailboxes. Following years of double-digit increases for homeowners, many are feeling a welcome relief this year, as Seattle Times reports that approximately half of the cities in King County are seeing a slight decrease compared to last year’s rates.
As the Times outlines, “altogether, the median homeowner countywide [in King County] will pay 0.3 percent more than a year ago, according to the King County Assessor’s Office. It’s the smallest increase since 2012, when taxes dipped slightly.” This is welcome news for a county that saw a staggering 43 percent increase in property taxes in the four years prior.
Taxes are dropping in Seattle by 1.2 percent but will see their biggest drop in Pacific, with a 12.6 percent decline. Other cities with falling tax rates include Maple Valley (-11.9%), Skykomish (-11.8%), Auburn (-11.4%), Black Diamond (-9.7%), Algona (-9.1%) and Federal Way (-8.9%). Burien, Des Moines, Enumclaw, Mercer Island, Renton, SeaTac and Tukwila will also see lower rates. Of course, not all cities will see lower rates. Bothell will see the largest increase, at 14.6 percent, while Bellevue, Kirkland, Woodinville, Shoreline, Redmond and Issaquah will also see gains.
So, you may be asking, why the sharp decline? According to the Times, changes are largely related to the McCleary ruling, which required Washington state to provide immediate funding to the school system last year (resulting in a 17 percent increase for many taxpayers). While many attribute tax rates to home values, the equation is not so simple. First, consider that the current property taxes are determined based on the previous year’s home values, meaning that 2019 tax bills reflect home prices as of January 1st, 2018. Second, the law dictates that property taxes cannot increase by more than one percent in a calendar year, unless voters decide otherwise. The only case in which property taxes can go up based on home values alone is “if your home value rises more than your neighbor’s.”
Another question many ask is, “where does the money go?” The Times says that while this varies by area, broadly speaking, “55 percent goes toward schools and 18 percent goes to the county. Cities also get about 15 percent, while the rest is divided up among special districts like Sound Transit, libraries, fire districts and the Port of Seattle.”
In King County, residents will pay $5.6 billion in taxes this year (down slightly from last year’s figure of $5.7 billion), while Snohomish County homeowners will pay 1.8 percent less and Pierce County tax bills will fall 6.5 percent.