Propertytaxes: Who to blame and what to do?

Published on Thu, Apr 26, 2007
Read More News

Property taxes: Who to blame and what to do?

I receive angry comments from residents everyday regarding property taxes. I am as angry as any other homeowner. My property taxes almost doubled. But taxpayers need to know who is responsible and what we can do about it.

Washington State law mandates that we pay according to what comparable properties are selling for.

It insults the careful planning that some of us have done to avoid getting financially in over our heads. It creates instability, fear, and inability to plan ahead. I adamantly disagree with those who say my home is no different than the stock market.

Unlike the stock market, which bases its’ returns on how much someone is willing to gamble, I am not a gambler and government is supposed to be fair and dependable!

Washington State law mandates how properties are taxed. Whatcom County government could soften the blow by changing to yearly valuations, and I support that. But yearly valuations won’t touch the real problem of enormous tax increases.

At the end of four years we are all paying much more no matter how we do it. Even though levy rates go down when valuations go up, we still pay much more in taxes if our valuations rise enormously, whether it is a big blow once every four years or smaller blows every year.

Twenty years ago I worked on a state measure to change the way we tax property to a system where we are taxed according to what we paid for our homes plus a one percent yearly cost of living adjustment.
Special interests plastered the media with scare tactics saying if the measure passed our children wouldn’t be able to afford homes.
The measure failed.

Fast forward and our kids can’t afford homes and many others are being taxed out of theirs.

If we want to change our property taxing system we all need to work on this one statewide.

Just because you pay your taxes to Whatcom County doesn’t mean county government gets much. About 80 percent of it goes to schools, cities, ports, voter approved measures, and other independent taxing districts that receive their authority from the state the same as county government. Just because some of them have the name, “Whatcom County” in their title doesn’t mean county government has any control over them, financial or otherwise. The label is just to identify where they are located.

About 18 percent of the property tax pot goes to Whatcom County government’s combined general and road funds.

Whatcom County has an independently elected assessor who determines valuation which is supposed to be based on the state formula. County government also has an independently elected treasurer who accepts property taxes from residents.

The taxes are distributed to taxing districts set up by state law according to the percentage each district is supposed to receive. County government cannot keep any money that belongs to other taxing districts.

It is easier to blame county government for our enormous property tax increases but state government is responsible for our regressive taxing system and is where change must happen.

I have been told that only the state legislature can change how property is taxed. That was not true 20 years ago.

I am researching to determine if residents still have the ability to change property tax law because the state legislature had a chance to do it this year and did not. If you want to help, contact me at bbrenner@co.whatcom.wa.us or call me at 384-2762.

You also need to ask elected officials at every level where they stand because elected officials have influence even though we may not have direct ability to change the status quo.