Maybe Eyman had it right after all

It’s too bad Tim Eyman didn’t get the signatures to put Initiative 864, the 25 percent property tax cut, on the ballot. I had just decided to vote for it.

I got a revaluation of property report from my county assessor the other day, and learned that my 44-year-old, two-bedroom house on one acre of land had gone from a 2004 market value of $294,420 to $327,420 for next year’s taxes. We paid $27,900 for it in 1965.

The house, despite its age, has gone up $13,000 in a year to $112,600 and the land $15,000 to $214,820.

Yes, it’s waterfront, but it has a 30-foot bank. And it faces Mount Baker — not that I can always see it.

In my only appeal to the county board of equalization, I pointed out that the weather bureau says I get fog at least 41 days a year so thick I can’t even see the beach.

I figured that ought to lower the value of my view, but the board, members of which are appointed by the county commissioners, who spend my property taxes, did not agree.

When readers complain they’re being taxed out of their homes, I understand — especially when you’re older with medical expenses eating into a fixed income of pensions and Social Security.

It’s costing me nearly $4,000 a month for the room, board and drugs for my husband, who is in a nursing home, over and above what long-term care insurance pays. If I hadn’t saved some money, I’d be on Medicaid, but my savings are eroding as my property taxes are going up.

Walter Winkel of Stehekin wrote me the real problem is escalation of transfer of privately owned and taxed lands to public ownership, thus removing them from the tax rolls.

“I came out here in 1961, and at that time it was estimated that 22 percent of all the land in Chelan County was privately owned,” he said. “It’s debatable how much is in all the other counties. But today, that private property base has shrunk down to less than 9 percent left in Chelan, all losses due to the land being gobbled up by federal and state agencies and the enviro-nonprofit organizations through grants from federal, state and municipal bonds to buy land.

“They buy, trade and sell at huge profits,” Winkel said. “This has been going on for decades with no regard to lost monies for schools, firefighting, law enforcement, etc., a never ending, vicious game.”

Winkel thinks the thing to do is return a lot of the property now in tax-free status to the tax rolls.

Well, that’s easier said than done. According to Mike Gowrylow of the Department of Revenue, there will be $6.3 billion collected in property taxes this year, but there are 101 existing tax exemptions, keeping a possible $2 billion more off limits.

Here’s some of the public property exempt from taxation by the state constitution and what it would bring in this year: $374 million on real and personal property owned by the feds, $243 million from the state, $462 million from the counties, $381 million from cities and towns, $130 million from colleges and universities, $311 million from K-12 public schools, $437 million from ports, $4 million from fire districts, $83 million from public utility districts.

Among the nonprofits, churches and parsonages are excused from $51 million in property taxes, and hospitals $34 million. There are scads more untouchables. We’ve never taxed intangibles such as bank accounts, stocks and bonds, etc., but there is a try made every now and then, since the annual anticipated take is estimated at $10 billion.

It would take a constitutional amendment to tax the public properties, and we couldn’t touch those owned by the feds. Gowrylow says it isn’t really feasible to tax public properties because they would just collect what they need to pay it from the taxpayers. Revenue calls the exemptions “taxpayer savings.”

Anyway, the media and the pols demonize Eyman for the monkey wrench he threw into government’s lavish spending — with our help, of course, but when I paid $33.75 last week for my car tab (and I didn’t vote for I-695), I realized I’m growing downright fond of the fellow.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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