At last, some sanity in property taxes?

Most residents of South Kitsap will receive a pleasant surprise when their property tax bills arrive in the near future.

As usual, last summer’s notices of increases in assessed values prompted cries of dismay and anger from people who assumed their tax bills would rise at the same rate as their assessed values.

Taxpayers whose assessed property values rose by the average (roughly 11.7 percent) will see little change in the total tax owed this year compared to last year.

And, those whose assessed values increased by less than the average will see a decrease in their total tax bills.

For the majority, this year’s “Valentine” from the county treasurer will be better than last year’s, which was an increase of more than 10 percent in the total owed.

If people will become familiar with changes in their own tax bills and assessed values over the past few years, they may realize that the biggest influence on the amount they pay is not the change in assessed value.

Over the long run, the biggest factor is the total dollar amount of the levies by each taxing district and the state.

The annual changes can resemble the story of the race between a tortoise and a hare. You and your income are, of course, the tortoise, and the tax is the hare. In some years, the hare sprints ahead.

Those sprints prompt people to consider ways to hobble the hare, and they tend to look at limiting the changes in assessed values.

If you limit the allowable increase in assessed values, you merely shift some of the tax burden to others.

When one person’s assessed value increases by more than the average under our current system, some of the burden shifts to that person from someone else whose assessed value increases by the average or less.

If you think you will always be among the favored group whose tax burden is shifted to others, limiting the allowed increases in assessed values may seem like a good idea.

If, instead, you think you may occasionally be among the group who must pay more in order to reduce the burden on others, you ought to wonder just who those others are and why their burden should be shifted to you.

A better way to hobble the hare is to limit annual increases in the levy dollar amount, just as we have since Initiative 747 was adopted in 2001.

When the total collected from us all increases by very little, the owners of property which did not increase in value because of new construction experience little change or even a decrease in their tax bills.

Owners of new construction pay more.

The hare’s occasional sprints are more than a little aggravating, but it is better to consider the whole race than one little segment.

Last year, the average tax bill increased by about 12 percent. The rise was produced mainly by the higher state school tax, higher taxes imposed by the Port of Bremerton for the Bremerton marina project, another big increase by the city of Port Orchard, and the voter-approved lid lift for the fire district.

Only the state school tax was a shift in the tax burden caused by our rapidly rising assessed values. Kitsap County’s total assessed valuation went up at a faster rate than the statewide average, so we paid a greater share of the state tax.

This year, the average total tax bill will go down slightly.

The fire district’s total levy is less, because we are paying only this year’s costs rather than the start-up costs incurred in 2006 along with the operating costs incurred in 2007 for the additional fire station.

The total amount we will pay for the state school tax is about 1 percent more than we paid last year, but the tax paid by owners of new construction more than offsets that increase in the total.

If your assessed value went up by the average or less, you will pay less to the state this year.

We will continue to pay for the Bremerton marina project through 2012, but at least the annual increases in that new tax will be limited.

Port Orchard’s levy is back up to what it had been before the city was annexed into the fire district, so this year’s increase and the increases in future years are again limited to 1 percent plus the amount generated by new construction.

We may now be back into a more normal pattern for property taxes under the limits first imposed by I-747.

Absent a voter-approved increase, owners of property which has not been improved by new construction would experience average annual increases over the long term of about 1 or 2 percent a year, if the pattern holds.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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