Spokane Journal of Business

Property tax levy rates rise

School construction, slower rise in values fuel increase after 5-year decline in city

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Businesses and homeowners in the city of Spokane will pay a higher property-tax levy rate this yearafter five years of decreasesdue partly to heightened school construction activity and a slower rise in overall property values here. On average, taxpayers in unincorporated Spokane County also will see a bump in property taxes.

John Sweetman, Spokane Countys chief deputy assessor, says the tax-levy rate in the city will be $15.51 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Thats an increase of $1.39 from last year, which means that the owner of a house with an assessed value of $120,000 will pay about $1,861 in property taxes in 1999, up from about $1,694 in 1998.

Businesses will pay comparable increases, with amounts varying depending on the value of the property.

The increase surfaced when the assessors office earlier this month certified property taxes for 1999 collection to the county treasurer, whos responsible for collecting the taxes. The assessors office establishes property values for the purpose of allocating taxes fairly among the countys taxpayers.

It also determines the levy rates that allow the countys 54 taxing districts to receive the amount of money they are requesting, within limits set by Washington state law.

All things being equal, basic levy rates tend to remain low when the economy is strong and property values are rising, and to climb, resulting in higher taxes, when property values soften.

Sweetman says city property owners arent the only ones who will be seeing levy-rate increases this year. The average combined levy rate for the county, after hovering a little below $15 per $1,000 of assessed value for the last four years, is $16.08 this year.

The actual levy rate assessed on property in unincorporated parts of Spokane County depends on where the property is, since the various utility, fire, and school districts each have their own levy rates. Still, that average serves as an indicator for whats happening countywide.

Sweetman says the increase appears to be due mostly to the effects of school-related special levies and to a slower rise in the total taxable value of the county. The assessors office put that value at $18.46 billion for 1998, on which this years tax bills are based, which is up 3.6 percent from $17.82 billion in 1997.

Although that percentage increase may seem healthy given the low national rate of inflation, its the smallest percentage jump since 1992, when the countys total taxable value edged up just 2.6 percent. Since then, the countys taxable value has climbed by 26 percent in 1993, 15.3 percent in 1994, 5.4 percent in 1995, 7.1 percent in 1996, and 4.5 percent in 1997.

In the city of Spokane, the tax levy rate conversely had decreased from $17.47 per $1,000 of valuation in 1993 to $14.12 per $1,000 of valuation last year.

All areas of the county dont have comparable trends, since tax bills vary depending on whether a property owner lives inside or out of a city or a fire, library, cemetery, or recreation district. The owner of a $120,000 home in one of the taxing districts in the Reardan area, for example, will see a $60 drop in property taxes this year.

The highest combined levy in the county this year, $19.69 per $1,000, is in an area covered by Mead School District and Fire District 9. The lowest combined rate, $10.57 per $1,000, is in the Newport School District in the northern part of the county.

A total of slightly more than $297 million in property taxes is expected to be levied in Spokane County this year, not including special-benefit districts such as those set up for weed and flood control, Sweetman says. A complete breakdown of where that money will go isnt available yet. However, of the $264.2 million in property taxes levied last year, the largest shareabout 33 percent, or $87.9 millionwas distributed to 19 school districts, according to assessors office records.

The second largest amountabout 25 percent, or $64.8 millionwent to the state school fund.

Of the remaining $111.5 million, 14 percent went to the 11 incorporated cities in the county, 11 percent went to the county itself, 8 percent to the 12 fire districts in the county, 7 percent to county roads, and a total of 2 percent to the county library district, six cemetery districts, one sewer district, one park-and-recreation district, and one water district.

Kim Crompton
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