9/17/2014 10:19:00 AM Tax decisions eliminate some, but not all uncertainty
Skagit County Assessor Don Munks declared that most of the homes in Shelter Bay and in the Pull and Be Damned Road neighborhood will be removed from the 2015 tax rolls. At the same time, the Swino-mish Indian Senate reached a consensus that there will be a property tax on those homes levied by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the Senate established a committee to work out the details. Meanwhile, homeowners on the 931 properties coming off next year’s county tax rolls are expected to pay the second half of their 2014 taxes, which is due on Oct. 31, according to Munks. But here’s what’s not so certain: Will the nine tax-supported agencies that are losing taxpayers receive funding from tribal taxes, and if so, will they know how much they’ll get before they submit their tax requests to the county and collect the money from a smaller pool of taxpayers? “That’s a critical piece,” said Dave Thomas of the Assessor’s Office. The agencies, including the La Conner School District, the La Conner Regional Library District and Fire District 13 are working on their budgets for next year right now. Later this fall, they’ll figure out how much property tax money they’ll need, and the county typically lets them know how much they can tax property owners to collect that amount. If there is no money coming in to offset the estimated $1.8 million in revenue with the buildings on tribal trust land coming off the tax rolls, the entire tax burden falls to the rest of the taxpayers in the district. The La Conner School District would be hit the hardest, with more than $779,000 to be distributed among fewer taxpayers. According to county figures, 1,932 of the 4,492 parcels in the school and library district, will be tax exempt. The number of exempt properties, which comes to more than 43 percent of the parcels, includes more than 1,000 exemptions granted to low income seniors as well as the 931 newly exempted structures on tribal land. Known as the “Great Wolf” decision, a federal court ruled last year that all structures on land held in trust by the government for Indian tribes are exempt from taxes, regardless of who owns them. In the La Conner area, the tribal land itself has never been taxed, but the homes on land leased from the Swinomish tribe have been taxed based on the value of the buildings. La Conner School Superin-tendent Tim Bruce said the district receives federal money that helps offset the taxes that were never collected on the ground under the homes on leased tribal land. But the district’s federal check has been shrinking every year. Bruce said with the structures coming off the tax rolls, it is possible that federal money could increase in future years, but since the amount is based on the number of students on tribal land, and not on the value of the property, the funding will never catch up to what is being lost.