Your property taxes explained @ May’s North Highline Unincorporated Area Council meeting

By Tracy Record
White Center Now editor

How exactly does the property tax process work? That’s part of what you would have learned if you’d attended this month’s North Highline Uncorporated Area Council meeting. In case you didn’t, we have toplines:

COUNTY ASSESSOR: John Wilson was first guest of the night. He noted that his office sets value for 720,000 parcels around the county. Last year, they had 9,000 valuation appeals. He explained the process of what goes into tax bills, and what goes into valuation.

Market sales are a strong factor in calculating residential values, for example.

They have to calculate 600 different levy codes including 150 different taxing districts. The taxes property owners pay go to a wide variety. Values calculated this year, for 2024 property taxes, are up 21 percent … while for this year’s taxes, values were up 6 percent. Here’s what taxes fund:

King County provides just under 50 percent of all state property tax revenue, he noted – followed by Snohomish, around 22 percent. More numbers: White Center valuations are up about 30 percent. That doesn’t mean your taxes are going up that much, though. 43 percent of your property-tax bill is voter-approved levies. 80 percent of property-tax revenue comes from homeowners – only 20 percent from commercial-property owners. (That’s inequitable, Wilson said, and would like to see it changed. “Homeowners and renters pay a disproportionate share of property taxes, and that ought to change.”)

Wilson also offered some education about the senior property-tax exemptions, and he talked about the changes in state law that will allow more to become – or remain – eligible for them.

That’ll mean even people with $72,000 household income will be eligible – up to 30,000 more households, he said. There’s also a deferral program, but someone eventually has to pay the taxes you deferred, either when you die or sell the house, for example. He noted a couple more relief bills that were proposed but didn’t make it through the Legislature. Later, he noted that the senior exemption program brings his office 1,200 calls a week. They have a backlog they hope to have remedied within three months or so.

In Q&A, he was asked, among other things, what happens with properties whose owners had tax exemption and then died. How does the Assessor’s Office find out? Tips are good, Wilson said, as they don’t have the staff to proactively keep verifying. What about when an exempt property becomes a rental? That too would be great to get a tip about, he said. Another attendee voiced the suspicion that renters vote for tax increases because they don’t think it’ll affect you. Property owners invariably pass the cost along in the rent they charge, Wilson assured her, and he thinks renters are aware of that. Another attendee who identified herself as a renter verified that.

Since zoning now allows multiple accessory dwelling units on properties, will that increase valuation even for those without them? Maybe over time, Wilson said, since valuations do have some relation to zoning. It mostly depends on how widespread that kind of construction becomes.

If one spouse qualifies by age but the other doesn’t, can they still apply? Wilson said yes.

NORTH SEA-TAC PARK: Sandy Hunt and Noemie Maxwell visited to talk about what they’re working on. They showed why they’re fighting for up to 100 forested acres that could be lost to airport expansion – they say trees are a vital factor in health outcomes.

They recapped their successful fight against losing some of the forest to an employee parking lot, then learning they weren’t out of the woods yet, so to speak. They talked about its environmental attributes, including a “true bog” and a creek. The area also is used for bicycling, disc golf, even rugby – it’s not “just” trees. They said that when homes were removed from the area decades ago, people were told the land would remain in “open public use.” There’s already been a lot of development – warehouses, for example.

Here’s what they’re fighting for:

How they’re going to get there, isn’t clear yet. There are “legal protections” they need to fight for, for example. But awareness is also big. Like the trees:

They’re collecting signatures here. They’re also open to speaking to other groups and helping with related advocacy. They also hope supporters will speak at Port Commission meetings. They might have to hold demonstrations, and that requires people-power. They’re not giving up and going away, is their message, even if and when attempts are made to assuage them by saying “no current plans.”

TIM’S TAVERN: NHUAC’s Barb Dobkin says she lives more than half a mile away but can hear the new venue’s nightly outdoor music in her home even with doors/windows closed. The state Liquor and Cannabis Board rep who usually attends NHUAC meetings said he had invited the operators to attend, though they didn’t show. He spoke with them about the sound levels and reported that they are working with their bands. But as another attendee from King County government, Michael Morales, noted, it’s a code issue, not an LCB issue. “What they’re doing is completely allowable in the business district.” Nonetheless, he said, they’ll look into it.

NEW BOARD MEMBER: The NHUAC board has another prospective new member – Brigitte introduced herself. “I want to be able to have a voice,” she declared. The vote on adding her to board will likely be taken next month.

SPEAKING OF WHICH … NHUAC meets first Thursdays most months, 7 pm, online, so June 1st is likely the next meeting.

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