Property values nearly double for Blaine and Birch Bay
“It was a shocker,” said Semiahmoo property
owner John Bennitt.
Bennitt said when he looked at his 2006 tax assessment sent out at the end of November by the county assessor, he found that for the purpose of calculating his property taxes, “the county figures the land itself is worth two and a half times what it was the last time and all told it’s doubled.”
Whatcom County assessor Keith Wilnauer said that after the revaluation of properties in the northwest quarter of the county this year, communities like Blaine and Birch Bay saw dramatic increases in property valuation. “Those areas were discovered in the last four years,” Willnauer said. “Four year ago they were not experiencing the low appreciation growth of the rest of the Puget Sound area. Low price and desirable location have both contributed to lighting up the market.”
Following a four-year cycle the county assessor’s office adjusts the value for properties in each of the four quadrants of Whatcom County to reflect changes in the market or property improvements. Last done in 2002, the northwest quadrant valuation changes will be used to calculate property taxes for the next four years.
The assessed valuation for all properties in Blaine was approximately $482 million before the recent adjustment, based on the last valuation in 2002.
The 2006 valuation reports that properties in the area are now worth $874 million, with only $41 million of that increase coming from new construction. That translates to a 73 percent increase in the value of existing Blaine properties.
The increase in valuation is even more striking in Birch Bay, where the total valuation went from $605 million to $1.2 billion. With only $61 million being new construction, Willnauer calculated that represents a 94 percent jump in the value of existing properties. “In Birch Bay it has had a lot to do with location and amenities – today people are willing to commute – and again the affordability,” he said.
Blaine city council member Charlie Hawkins said he saw the value of his property for tax purposes increase by approximately 75 percent, though he worried the assessor’s office was basing the new valuations on a real estate market bubble that was even now leaking air.
Another concern for Hawkins was that the new valuations represented a trend in which many who grew up in Blaine couldn’t afford to live here. “The average worker in Blaine isn’t going to be able to buy a house in his hometown,” he said.
“We are catching a market that made its major move in 2003-2005, and it takes us this long to catch up,” Willnauer said. “We didn’t get a 90 percent increase but we missed one more year of strong market evidence and the moves in more affordable areas are not as dramatic as in established ones.”
Next year it will be the turn of the eastern part of the county, and Willnauer said he expects to see a similar strong increase in property valuations.
Bennitt said if his taxes were going up by the same factor that his property valuation did, he wants to know where the money is going.
Willnauer said the new valuations wouldn’t mean more money going to the state and local agencies who are funded through taxation – by law they can only raise the total tax dollar amount collected by one percent each year without voter approval. The purpose of the new valuations is to spread that tax burden differently – with the higher priced properties in the county paying a larger share.
“When a $200,000 house is correctly assessed at fair market value in Birch Bay it starts to pay the same amount of tax as a $200,000 house in Bellingham,” he said. “The Bellingham property owner gets to feel a little relief and Birch Bay gets its turn to come up to fair share. The only windfall is felt by another taxpayer who is feeling some support.”
An exception will be for property owners served by Fire District 13, where in November voters overwhelmingly approved an increase in the levy mill rate – tax dollars collected per thousand dollars of assessed valuation -– from $1.49 to $1.50 along with a merger between districts 3 and 13.