10/1/2014 11:44:00 AM Taxing questions
outnumber answers so far
Taxes by the numbers
At today’s tax rates, this is what removing 931 parcels from the tax rolls does to the levy per each $1,000 in assessed valuation: Shelter Bay and other taxed parcels on tribal land: Now: $13.16. Would be $15.26. Town of La Conner: Now: $13.25. Would be $15.05. Pleasant Ridge, Channel Drive and other properties east of Swinomish Channel: Now: $13.36. Would be $15.46.
With 931 La Conner area parcels coming off the property tax rolls, people are wondering what their tax bills will look like in 2015. Homeowners in Shelter Bay and on Pull & Be Damned Road won’t be paying property tax to the county next year. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be paying for tax-supported public services. The Swinomish Indian Tribal Senate has formed a committee to work out a tribal tax code. Meanwhile, the smaller pool of people who will continue to pay their county tax bills could face big increases, unless the tribe takes action before the county certifies the property tax levies in December. Dave Thomas with the Skagit County Assessor’s Office said, “I expect the tribe will have something determined by then.” Tribal officials have been meeting with county officials and representatives of the agencies most affected by the so-called “Great Wolf Decision,” a federal court ruling that makes all structures on tribal land exempt from property taxes, regardless of ownership. More meetings are scheduled next week, and tribal officials have said they’re working on a solution but haven’t made details available yet. Most residents in Shelter Bay and in the Pull & Be Damned Road neighborhoods lease the land their homes sit on from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which holds the land in trust for Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. People with homes on trust land have never been taxed on the value of their land, but they have been taxed on the value of their buildings on that land. Dozens of other people who live within the boundaries of the Swinomish Indian Reservation own their land outright — in “fee simple” — and will continue to pay taxes through the county, which distributes the taxes to the various agencies.
The nine agencies no longer able to collect on the newly exempt tribal parcels include La Conner School District, Fire District 13 and La Conner Regional Library, which are most affected. Based on this year’s assessments, exempting the 931 parcels takes a bite of $779,000 out of the $3.3 million the school district collects in property taxes. For Fire District 13, an agency whose vast majority of emergency calls are on the reservation, nearly $104,000 is being shaved off its $448,000 property tax check. Unless the tribe fills in the shortfall with a tribal tax, the amount raised through levies will be reallocated among the existing taxable properties. “At some point, we will have to tell the county this is how much we need,” said La Conner School District Superintendent Tim Bruce. Then the county will determine what the owners of every taxable property will pay next year. “If we find out the tribe is going to contribute a certain amount,” Bruce said, the school district would seek less in property taxes.