An out-of-commission Mountain View Fire and Rescue vehicle that was being used to cover the city of Black Diamond. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

An out-of-commission Mountain View Fire and Rescue vehicle that was being used to cover the city of Black Diamond. Photo by Ray Miller-Still

Courier-Herald misreports on potential levy lid lift

Black Diamond residents are being taxed $1.89 per $1,000 in assessed property value this year, not 64 cents.

The Courier-Herald reported erroneous financial information concerning a proposed levy lid lift in Black Diamond.

In the article, “To fund fire department, Black Diamond property taxes could jump,” published Aug. 28, 2019, it was reported Black Diamond residents are being taxed a general property levy of 64 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2019, which was mostly split between the Black Diamond Police Department and Mountain View Fire and Rescue, the fire department that serves the city.

This is incorrect — Black Diamond residents are being taxed $1.89 per $1,000 in assessed property value (APV) this year.

Additionally, Black Diamond does not pay Mountain View Fire in terms of APV — under the current interlocal agreement, the city pays a flat rate that is adjusted by inflation.

In 2019, the city will pay Mountain View Fire about $559,000, roughly a third of the $1.65 million the city expects to collect through its general property tax levy.

Mountain View Fire has translated this to the city paying 64 cents per $1,000 APV, since 64 cents is roughly a third of the $1.89 collected by the city.

The maximum levy amount the city can place on its residents is $3.10. However, state law limits municipalities and departments that collect property taxes to collecting only 1 percent more year after year — this means as property values increase, the levy amount must decrease to compensate.

For example, residents paid a total of $2.61 per $1,000 APV in 2014, dropping to the $1.89 they will pay in 2019.

In real dollar amounts, the median home in Black Diamond — which has a value of $386,000, according to the Seattle Times — will pay about $730 in 2019.

Since only a third of the total levy collection went to Mountain View Fire in 2019, that means about $250 out of the median home’s taxes will go to the department.

The only way for the city to collect more property taxes is through a levy lid lift, which can reset the levy amount up to its maximum. A lid lift, though, is subject to a vote, and needs supermajority (60 percent) approval.

Mountain View Fire and Rescue has made it clear to Black Diamond that if the city does not run a levy lid lift on a future ballot, its board of commissioners will take a serious look at whether they want to continue serving the area.

According to a draft interlocal agreement, Mountain View Fire wants to move away from a flat fee plus inflation for its services, and be paid a certain amount per $1,000 APV.

Starting in 2020, according to that draft agreement, the fire department wants to be paid $1 per $1,000 APV. Then in 2021, $1.10 per $1,000 APV; in 2022, $1.20; and in 2023, $1.50.

Although a majority of the Black Diamond City Council appears to approve of a levy lid lift at the moment, it’s not clear whether this will be the case when the issue comes to a vote, and even less clear what they may propose the levy amount should be raised to, making it difficult to predict how a levy lid lift will affect residents.

However, assuming the council would lift the levy lid just enough so Mountain View Fire and Rescue could collect the amount of taxes stipulated in the draft contract with the city (meaning other departments, like the police, would receive no additional funds), residents could expect the levy amount to rise to around $2.25 in 2020, $2.35 in 2021, $2.45 in 2022, and $2.65 in 2023.

In real dollars (again using the median home value figure of $386,000) this means the median home would be taxed about $870 in 2020, $910 in 2021, $945 in 2022, and $1,020 in 2023, assuming home values stay constant.

According to the fire department, this would bring Black Diamond in line with how much the rest of Mountain View Fire’s district is taxed for fire services, which is $1.50 per $1,000 APV, for proportionally similar levels of service.

You can read the full, corrected story here.

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