Opinion

SK taxpayers shoulder more of the burden

When South Kitsap taxpayers receive their property tax bills next week, they will need to look at the comparison of each levy’s amount for this year and last to see why the bottom line is different.

Using the boundaries of the South Kitsap School District to define the area we call South Kitsap, total property taxes for 2011 increased by about 3.8 percent.

We had no big increase in a voter-approved levy for taxes payable this year.

The SKSD maintenance and operations levy approved a couple of years ago went up only 3 percent.

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue used part of its “banked levy capacity” from its previously approved temporary lid lift again this year, so its regular levy went up roughly 2.7 percent — including the increase generated by new construction.

The Emergency Medical Services levy by SKFR went down by a little more than 3 percent because of declining property values. Already at its maximum tax rate in 2010 and now again in 2011, revenue collected by the EMS levy goes down with property values.

Another levy that is capped by its maximum tax rate is the Bremerton Port District’s industrial development district levy, which declined along with assessed values again this year.

So, with all the “usual suspects” either going down or rising at no more than 3 percent, how could the total tax collected within South Kitsap go up by more than 3 percent?

Two “culprits” are mostly responsible for the increase in our total tax bills.

First, the share of the state school levy paid by Kitsap taxpayers went up 4.9 percent this year.

Second, it turns out that assessed values in South Kitsap — especially that part within Port Orchard — didn’t act the same as values in the rest of the county.

Port Orchard’s tax base went up by 6.6 percent while all around them assessed values were generally falling. Annexations added 1.1 percent, new construction added 2.6 percent, and assessed values of existing property not improved by new construction rose by 2.9 percent.

Since Port Orchard was annexed into the fire district years ago, changes in its tax base also affect SKFR’s tax base.

In this instance, the effect is good. If the city’s tax base had declined at the countywide average, rather than rising, revenue from the EMS levy would have gone down even more.

But there is another side to this remarkable rise in Port Orchard’s tax base. When considering formation of a regional fire protection service authority with the city of Bremerton, the lower tax base in Bremerton just got even lower relative to SKFR.

In the unincorporated areas of South Kitsap, the tax base went down, but not as much as it did in other parts of the county.

Our total assessed value in South Kitsap went down only 2.8 percent, while the countywide drop in total valuation was 5.8 percent.

Our share of the total value relative to that of everyone else in the county is bigger for this year’s taxes.

This means that part of the tax burden shifts to South Kitsap taxpayers for each of the countywide levies.

As a group, we pay more of the levies for the state, the county general fund, the county road fund, the public utility district, and the Kitsap Regional Library compared to last year.

For a taxpayer whose assessed value declined at close to the average for South Kitsap, the biggest part of any increase in the total tax bill will come from those countywide levies.

Some taxpayers within Port Orchard, of course, are going to see a bigger than average shift in the burden to their tax bills.

The taxes owed by individual taxpayers to the state and each taxing district for both this year and last year appear on the bill.

Comparing the amounts shown on the bill for each levy should show each person where any increase comes from and how much of an increase it is.

The shift in tax burdens because of the relative changes in tax bases explains a lot about why the amounts are different this year compared to last.

Bob Meadows is a

Port Orchard resident.

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