Taxpayers to be pounded with a huge increase, says assessor

By Pat Grubb

Property owners should expect a sizable jump in their 2018 tax bill that will arrive in their mailboxes around the middle of February. Much of the increase can be attributed to the state legislature’s decision to hike the state education levy to comply with Washington State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision requiring the state to fully fund basic K-12 education.

“The state has decided to pound everyone with a huge increase this year,” county assessor Keith Willnauer said recently, advising that state education taxes will increase from $2.23 to $3.20 per $1,000 assessed value. A house valued at $250,000 will see an extra $242 added to their property tax bill. There will be other increases heaped on, he added, such as a 37 percent increase in the county flood control levy and increases by other local taxing districts.

Taxpayers can expect some relief in 2019 as the state claws back some taxing authority from local school districts in what’s referred to as a tax swap. How much relief is not known for certain.

In a presentation to the Point Roberts Taxpayers Association on January 10, Willnauer discussed the relationship between property assessments and property tax bills. “Each of you are going to pay a share of government costs based upon the value of your property. If your property value goes up relative to other properties, then your property tax will go up. It’s a shift in the burden,” he said. “My problem,” he added, “is [everyone’s] going to see [their] property taxes go way up,” due to the increases by various taxing districts.

Willnauer said it’s not the assessment that is behind the tax burden, it’s the tax levy that results from spending decisions made by local governments. “Most of the time, it’s voter-approved taxes levied by hospital or parks or fire districts,” he pointed out. “People don’t leave their check in the ballot box when they vote in favor of a new school or a new tax,” he observed.

In a January 23 interview, Willnauer said he was in the final stages of preparing the 2018 property tax year review which provides Whatcom County’s total tax burden in relation to the county’s total property assessment. The report will present the mill rate for various taxing districts which, in combination, will allow property owners to assess the impact of upcoming tax increases. “You’re going to see a dramatic increase in your tax bill,” Willnauer prophesized.

This is Willnauer’s eighth four-year term as county assessor. His current term runs until January 2020. During ski season, he is a ski instructor at the Mt. Baker ski area.

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