11/26/2014 9:53:00 AM Deadline looms on
property tax levy rates
The end of November, which is this Sunday, is the final day for taxing districts to submit their levy requests to the Skagit County Assessor. Each year, the Assessor determines the property values, and assigns a levy rate for every $1,000 of assessed valuation for each property, collects the property taxes and passes the money through to the various agencies. In the La Conner area, this year’s deadline is charging at county, agency and tribal officials at the speed of light. Swinomish Indian Tribal Senate, La Conner School District, Fire District 13 and La Conner Regional Library District must act quickly, or about two-thirds of the area’s taxpayers could be in for a nasty shock next year when their property tax bills arrive. That’s because in September the County Assessor announced that 931 tax parcels for structures built on leased tribal land will be removed from the 2015 tax rolls. This follows a federal court ruling that buildings on tribal land are exempt from taxes except those levied by the tribes themselves. That means most of the homes in Shelter Bay and in the Pull & Be Damned neighborhood are immune from the county property tax that feeds nine tax-supported entities. Typically when property comes off the tax rolls, the tax burden automatically shifts to the remaining taxpayers. In this case, that leaves taxpayers on about 2,000 parcels in the fire district and around 2,500 in the school and library districts. Based on the current year assessments, $1.8 million would be shifted to the remaining taxpayers. The Swinomish Senate has stepped up and crafted a tribal tax code to ensure that public services are funded. Now it is working to finalize agreements with the taxing districts that depend on the funding from those 931 newly exempt parcels to meet their 2015 budgets. La Conner School District Superintendent Tim Bruce said everyone is working to get the agreements in place before the Nov. 30 levy deadline. “The district really does not want an increase to the other taxpayers that lie outside the exempt area,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure everyone is being treated fairly and with equity,” Bruce said. “That’s at the very core of what we’re trying to accomplish.” So there are meetings between tribal and district officials scheduled between now and the deadline day. Bruce said when the agreement is ready for board approval, the district will call a special board meeting. Same with Fire District 13, said Chief Roy Horn. This year about $104,000 of the district’s tax revenue was from the now exempt parcels. Last week the fire commissioners approved the district’s budget, including a request for $455,646 in property tax revenue — an increase of $4,542 over the current year. “I’m sitting on that document,” Horn said on Tuesday. “If the tribe says they’ll pick up the shortfall from Shelter Bay, we will reduce that figure.” And, “we’ll have to call a real fast special board meeting to modify that.” Assessor-elect Dave Thomas said the county is scheduled to certify the levy requests next Friday, on Dec. 5. Once the levies are certified, he said, the amounts won’t be changed in 2015. That means that if the deadlines are not met, the remaining taxpayers in the school, fire and library districts would just have to shoulder the whole load next year.