“There’s no sugar-coating it, property tax bills will be bigger this year.” That’s the ominous opening sentence found in a press release issued last week by the office of the Pierce County assessor-treasurer.
The only spot of good news is that property owners in the eastern end of the county – those inside the Buckley city limits and, or a broader scale, within the White River School District – are seeing smaller-than-average increases.
Mike Lonergan, Pierce County’s assessor-treasurer, said the sharp tax hikes have reached 20 percent in some areas. The reasons, he said, are two-fold: first is the action taken by the state Legislature in response to the McCleary school funding case; a second factor hits closer to home and involves the voter-approved tax measures promoted by school districts.
“The Legislature’s previous limit of $1.50 per thousand dollars of property value on local school enrichment levies was increased to $2.50,” Lonergan explained in his press release, “and a 30 cent reduction in the state school levy has expired. So that’s a $1.30 per thousand increase to start with.”
The resulting 2020 tax bill will be brutal in some areas of Pierce County. For example, tax rate increases are roughly 20 percent in Lakewood, University Place, Parkland-Spanaway and Fircrest. Tacoma and Gig Harbor taxes will just by an average of 14 percent.
IT’S A DIFFERENT STORY HERE
Asked to provide comparable numbers for the easternmost end of Pierce County, Lonergan said the average increase in Buckley will be 4.28 percent. Breaking things down further, he reported the average single-family home is valued at $406,708. The 2020 property tax on that average home will be $3,834, which reflects the 4.28 percent hike. That’s an average tax increase of $157 over the 2019 tax bill.
In the White River School District, Lonergan said, the average single-family home is valued at $388,662. The tax bill in 2020 on that home will be $4,857 or an increase of 4.7 percent. That’s $218 more than was paid in 2019.
“So, compared to other parts of Pierce County (and much of the state of Washington) Buckley and the White River School District are among the lowest tax increases this year,” Lonergan said in an emailed response.
Change could be on the horizon, though.
Lonergan noted the relatively-low increase is due to the fact that White River did not have an “enrichment levy” authorized last year. The school district had a levy on the November ballot but voters turned in down.
The district’s levy rate is presently $1.37 per $1,000 of assessed property value, while the maximum allowed rate of $2.50. White River has placed essentially the same levy on the Feb. 11 ballot, which voters have already received by mail.
The only city or town in Pierce County where the tax on the average house went down is South Prairie, where the average home value is $270,838 and the 2020 average tax bill is $3,142.
Lonergan said the decrease of 1.23 percent equals a $39 reduction when compared with last year.
SCHOOLS MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
“While our assessed values continue to rise, that’s not what drives these big increases,” Lonergan’s press release noted. “Over 58 percent of the taxes I collect go to K-12 school funding, so the voted changes there make a huge difference.”
Without a ballot issue, the property tax revenue of a taxing district such as a city or the county can only go up 1 percent each year, plus the tax resulting from new construction. Most property tax bills in Pierce County decreased in 2019, according to the assessor-treasurer. But, he added, this year’s increase will erase that reduction and take tax bills past the 2018 level.
RELIEF FOR LOW-INCOME RESIDENTS
This year, the maximum household income to qualify for a low-income senior or disabled exemption has increased to $45,708. Those hoping to take advantage of the tax break can find an application form on the assessor-treasurer’s website or at the Pierce County Annex, 2401 S. 35th St. in Tacoma.
Property owners who pay their taxes directly should receive a statement in the mail in mid-February. The first-half payment is due no later than April 30, with the balance due by Nov. 2.
Those whose taxes are paid out of mortgage accounts may look up their taxes online at piercecountywa.gov/atr beginning Feb. 1.