Opinion

Small property tax increase for 2012

Property tax bills will be arriving in a few weeks, and two South Kitsap taxing districts will be considering property tax ballot measures in the coming year.

If voters understand the changes in this year’s property taxes, maybe it will help them understand the ballot measures.

Assessed property values in South Kitsap declined by an average of about 5 percent compared to last year, while the total tax bill went up by an average of about 2 percent.

Some people are puzzled when their property’s assessed value goes down while their total tax bill goes up.  They haven’t yet realized that the tax goes down along with the value only when the taxing district’s levy is already at its maximum allowable tax rate.

In South Kitsap this year, two levies are reduced in amount because of declining property values — the South Kitsap Fire and Rescue (SKFR) emergency medical services (EMS) levy and the Port of Bremerton industrial development district (IDD) levy.

They were already at their maximum tax rates, so the rate stays the same this year while the assessed values go down — resulting in a lower property tax for these two levies.

The port district’s IDD levy amount went down a little more than 5 percent because of declining property values, resulting in a 2.6 percent decrease in the port district’s total property tax this year.  The slight increase in the port’s regular levy was more than offset by the IDD levy’s decrease.

SKFR’s EMS levy amount went down by 5 percent for the same reason — declining property values.

Other levies that are included in the total tax bill rose, since they are not capped this year by a maximum tax rate.

Even Port Orchard’s net levy revenue after being annexed into the library district rose by a tiny amount (0.3 percent) compared to what the city had last year after paying the library district for services.

South Kitsap School District’s (SKSD) voter-approved excess levy increased by 5 percent this year, just as had been approved by voters in 2009.

SKFR’s regular operations levy rose by 6 percent, offsetting the 5 percent decline in the EMS levy and the end of federal grant funding — resulting in a 3 percent rise in the total collected by both SKFR levies.

When SKFR got voter approval for a temporary six-year lid lift in 2006, the promise was to take only as much of the voter-approved increase as was necessary to staff an additional station.

The “banked levy capacity” resulting from not taking all that was allowed by the lid lift now has to be used to maintain both the added station from 2006 and the added station from the current EMS levy.

This year, SKFR must go back to the voters with another lid lift proposition, since the temporary lid lift expires at the end of 2012.

The fire district commissioners have to figure out what tax rate to put on the ballot in order to have enough tax revenue to maintain existing response capabilities in 2013.

If assessed values for tax year 2013 decline again, as they have in the past few years, SKFR needs to raise its regular operations levy by enough to offset the resulting decline in the EMS levy and to provide enough revenue to cover rising costs.

The school district’s excess levy won’t expire until the end of 2013, but SKSD has to develop its levy plan before the end of this year in order to place a measure on the ballot early in 2013.

Unlike the fire district’s task of picking a tax rate to put on the ballot, the school district directors have to pick a levy amount to put on the ballot for voter approval.

For SKSD’s levy, the tax rate will be whatever it takes to collect the voter-approved levy amount.

This year’s total average tax bill rose by about 2 percent rather than 1 percent because of the two voter-approved levies by SKSD and SKFR.

Those two levies make up only a part of the total, so their effect on the total is less than you might expect when looking only at the increases for each of them.

 

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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