Last year, Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island) said she anticipated a “primal scream” when homeowners in Seattle and on the Eastside received their property tax bills in February.
On the Island, where the median home is valued at $1.2 million this year, the average property tax increase will be 18.18 percent, slightly higher than the 16.92 percent countywide.
King County Assessor John Wilson also predicted “sticker shock” when bills were sent out on Feb. 14, said Bailey Stober, communications director for the assessor’s office.
The increase resulted not just from rising property valuations in the area, but also from the state Legislature’s decision to fully fund K-12 education with a statewide property tax hike. That added $1.01 per $1,000 of assessed value in King County to their portion. On average, 57 percent of King County property taxes go to fund public schools.
Fears of the coming property tax bills appeared to have impacted the results of last Tuesday’s special election, especially in King County where, according to the assessor’s office, property owners were hit hardest. School levy votes in many communities were tighter than usual and in three districts failed.
Now that the vote is over and the bills are in the mail, the next question facing many lower-income owners in the area is “How do we pay?”
The assessor’s office has been trying to help people answer that question for the past few weeks. The State Department of Revenue does offer some assistance in the form of two tax benefit programs for senior citizens and the disabled — property tax exemptions and property tax deferrals — that are administered by local assessor’s offices.
Those who are at least 61 years old, own their home and have an income of less than $40,000 per year can qualify for property tax relief, which “freezes your property value and gives you some relief on levies,” Stober said.
Wilson’s office has been reaching out to seniors, veterans and disabled homeowners to make them aware of tax-exemption programs. His office is working in Olympia and with King County Executive Dow Constantine to create more tools for transparency around property taxes.
“We know that property taxes can be especially tough for those on fixed incomes,” Wilson said in a press release.
King County has also been supporting legislative efforts this session to increase the capacity of the exemption program, hoping to expand enrollment to more seniors, disabled veterans and disabled residents. HB 2597 and SB 6314 would allow local governments to exempt these groups from paying into certain levies. For example, in Seattle, seniors are not exempt from the low income housing levy, Stober said.
The assessor is also interested in increasing the $40,000 cap, which is “really low” in King County, Stober added.
“We’re sympathetic… and we will work in Olympia for relief for all taxpayers,” Stober said. “We don’t want to tax anyone out of their homes.”
Information on how to apply for an exemption, along with other property-assessment-related information, can be found at kingcounty.gov/assessor.