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State assessor explains why Enumclaw assessed values are down and taxes are up

Forty-eight states collect taxes one way. The other two, Washington and Texas, do it differently.

That was the primary message delivered by King County Assessor Lloyd Hara as he spent a recent day visiting Enumclaw. Hara, elected to his post in November, was in town April 15, starting with a morning meeting of the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce and concluding with a evening, public session at the local library. Along the way, he had lunch with local Rotarians and met with Mayor Liz Reynolds, Superintendent Mike Nelson of the Enumclaw School District and Fire Chief Joe Clow.

During his campaign, Hara promised to visit each of the 39 cities in the county. In fulfilling that promise, Hara has started with the communities that are in the uncommon position of seeing their assessed value go down but tax bills go up.

Enumclaw and Vashon Island make up that exclusive club.

The simple reason, Hara said, is that Enumclaw School District voters have supported requests by the district for things above and beyond the state’s allocation for basic education.

During 2010, he pointed out, Enumclaw property owners will be paying taxes to support a maintenance and operation levy, a bond measure and a capital improvement program, all authorized at the polls by school district voters.

A handout provided by Hara puts the tax picture in simple dollars-and-cents terms.

The average Enumclaw parcel was assessed in 2009 at $274,800; applying a tax rate of $9.07, the owner paid an annual tax bill of $2,493.

Jumping ahead to 2010, the average Enumclaw assessment has decreased almost 15 percent to $233,900; the tax rate has climbed, however, to $11.28, meaning the final tax bill is $2,637 or an increase of nearly $145.

The school district items aren’t responsible for the entire increase, Hara pointed out, but do set Enumclaw apart from many other communities.

In the larger picture, the assessor emphasized how the state of Washington uses a “revenue based” formula for figuring tax loads, as opposed to 48 other states.

In Washington, taxing districts – and there a lot of them – determine how much money they will collect for a coming year and the tax rates are adjusted to assure the predetermined amount is collected. If property values go down, rates have to climb to meet the revenue goal.

In most states, districts collect money based upon a predetermined rate that does not change. So, if property values shrink, property owners’ tax bills decrease accordingly. Not so in Washington and Texas.

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