The importance of understanding taxes | COMMENTARY

It’s that time of year again: property tax statements have recently come out from King County

  • Saturday, April 29, 2017 9:30am
  • Opinion

It’s that time of year again: property tax statements have recently come out from King County. Taxes are going up, and it’s important to understand why, and it’s also important that we begin discussing some of the problems that are emerging with our property tax system.

Property taxes are complicated. King County’s job is to collect property taxes for the state, the county, the cities, and all of the school districts and other special purpose districts within the county. Generally, more than half of property tax revenue goes to our schools.

Most people don’t realize that the fluctuating value of your property has less to do with changes in your tax bill than measures approved by voters. Decisions made by voters and elected officials determine the total amount of tax to be collected in your area; the value of your property determines your share of that total amount.

Each local government can only increase property tax revenues by 1 percent per year, unless voters approve a special levy. Today, due to a lack of other options, governments are being forced to rely on special levies for basic operations.

Voters are saying yes to spending money on legitimate, valuable government services, such as parks, human services, schools, fire protection and transportation. But that doesn’t make it easier for many of our neighbors.

Low-income seniors, veterans and disabled homeowners may qualify for a property-tax exemption offered by my office. These exemptions can be the difference in someone’s ability to stay in their home.

You can call our office at 206- 296-7300 or visit our website which contains information on how to apply for an exemption on property-tax rates, and how to appeal your assessed value: kingcounty.gov/assessor.

Make no mistake, these levies are paying for vital services that our community needs, so I am not saying we should just slash taxes. But the increasing use of special levies to pay for basic services is unsustainable. Our current system of taxation and service delivery wasn’t planned by anyone, it has evolved over time, and it’s breaking down.

Last year I began calling for a community conversation on how to modernize our revenue and service delivery systems. I have begun working on just that. I have taken the opportunity to meet with the University of Washington, former Governors, and legislators to discuss this critical issue. In the months ahead I intend to expand that conversation. I hope you’ll join the discussion.

John Wilson has been the King County assessor since 2015.

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