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Local property tax hike highest in county
MARYSVILLE When the country is entering a recession and the president and Congress are sending out rebate checks, this is reprehensible, said Marysville resident Robert Rise.
Along with every other property owner in Snohomish County, Rise received his property tax bill around Feb. 13.
According to Snohomish County Assessor Cindy Portmann, property taxes increased an average of about 6.2 percent over last year countywide. In Marysville, the hike hit an average of 14.9 percent, the highest in the area. Along with the tiny town of Index, Marysville is the only city in Snohomish to see double digit increases.
I now know what I will be doing with my rebate check, Rise said.
For the most part, Portmann and others said the increases are due to voter-approved tax issues for which the bills have now come due. According to Portmann, on average, voter approved taxes account for 45 percent of all county property taxes.
In the case of Marysville, the reason this year is the $118 million bond issue passed in 2006 mostly to support construction of the new Getchell High School.
Thats going to be a big ticket item, said school district Superintendent Larry Nyland, adding the system just sold an additional $39 million in bonds to support the on-going project. The sale was the last authorized by the 2006 ballot issue.
Were doing exactly what the voters asked us to do, Nyland said.
Besides levies, Portmann said there is some confusion over how the county determines home values. She said her office has received phone calls and e-mails from taxpayers who argue that with the current housing market in mind, their property taxes should have gone down.
But Portmann said the county sets current values based on a fairly complicated formula. In short, the 2008 county assessment on your property was based on the assessment from Jan. 1, 2007, which in turn was based on local sales in 2006.
Countywide, the average assessed residential value jumped from $299,600 in 2007 to $346,800 for 2008, according to Portmanns office. Those figures translate to an average of 15.8 percent and the average percent tax change was 4.2 percent or $125.
Portmann mentioned one other source of confusion sometimes brought up by taxpayers, namely Initiative 747, passed by voters in 2001.
Basically, the initiative limited certain property tax increases to no more than 1 percent per year. Some government entities have the authority to levy that 1 percent without a vote of the people. However, anything over 1 percent must go to a public vote, including such things as school bond issues or fire district levies. If voters approve such ballot issues, taxes are raised accordingly and the 1 percent rule just doesnt apply.
Perhaps not incidentally, Marysville City Council bucked the recommendation of the city administration and voted not to take the allowable 1 percent hike for 2008. Actually, the city has not taken its allowable 1 percent for several years. Overall, throughout the county, non-voted taxes jumped $21 million or 4.4 percent over last year, according to the assessors office.
For his part, Rise said the school issue added about $425 to his tax bill, while he saw a total increase of about $600. He has no children in the school system currently.
Still, I actually voted for that levy assuming it (his tax bill) wasnt going to up that much, he said.
Jim Baker is executive director of finance for the district. He said the increases are actually a bit less than what district officials predicted they might be back in 2006.
At the time, bond supporters calculated the issue would increase property taxes by approximately $4.70 per $1,000 in property value. In reality, Baker said the actual number this year is $4.30 per $1,000 in property value.
We feel very good about that, Baker said.
Baker noted the district had not undertaken any new construction for 12 years prior to 2006. With the Getchell project about to go out to bid, officials are looking toward future needs. Baker is just one member of a facilities committee that began meeting in January with an eye towards possibly recommending a 2010 ballot issue. The district school board would have the last word.
Some projects on the board so far include the possible renovation of Marysville-Pilchuck High School, along with renovation projects at Cascade and Liberty elementary schools. Baker emphasized the list of projects is nowhere near final. How might anger over the current tax bills affect voter opinion of any future issues?
According to Baker, finance officials carefully set up recent bond sales. While the bonds wont be paid off by 2010, Baker said the district should be in a position to sell further bonds without adding any new dollars to resident tax bills.
The variable we cant control is what the assumed valuations will be, he said.
If residential owners have plenty of complaints about their tax bills, little beefing seems to be coming from the local business community. President of the Greater Marysville-Tulalip Chamber of Commerce, Cauldie Rogers said many business owners have generalized concerns with how the county assigns property values. But she said no specific complaints have reached her office over the latest round of property tax bills.
I think most business owners are more sophisticated about the makeup of their tax bills, she said, adding many support fire district or other levies even if those issues do add to tax bills.
For her part, Portmann isnt surprised there is some anger and confusion over the tax bills that just went out.
Its a fairly complex subject not easily explained in a sound byte, she said.