10/7/2015 11:27:00 AM Property values rise again
- tax hikes probably not far behind
La Conner residents will soon receive notices from the Skagit County Assessor’s Office, outlining the change in assessed value of their property. “We’ve certified the roll and expect the notices will be mailed Friday,” Assessor Dave Thomas said Tuesday. The new values have already been posted on the county’s website. A quick check of the website shows that some properties in La Conner that were not re-assessed last year have new values about 14 percent higher, and some homes that had big increases in their assessed value last year will go up again, too. Last year some owners of modestly priced homes in town, mostly in the flood plain, saw their assessed values rise by about 15 percent — followed by huge tax increases of close to 25 percent when the tax burden from 931 parcels in the La Conner School District were taken off the property tax rolls. The tax burden was shifted to the remaining taxpayers, including everyone in the town limits. Other properties in town, including view properties on the hill, were not re-valued last year, so the tax on those parcels went up around 6 percent. This year, just about every home’s value will go up, while most commercial properties will stay the same for yet another year. For example, La Conner Mayor Ramon Hayes, whose house value was unchanged last year, has a taxable value increase of about 14 percent this year. Pioneer Market’s building value hasn’t changed since 2013. And four of the five members of the La Conner Town Council live in houses that were reassessed last year, and they’ll see their taxable values go up by another 4 percent this year. That means most homeowners can expect their 2016 property taxes to go up again, as impacts from the federal court ruling known as the “Great Wolf” decision continue to settle in. Town and school officials have been very active in working with county, state and federal officials trying to find tax relief for local residents. In 2013, five months after voters in the La Conner School District approved a $20 million school construction and reno-vation bond, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District ruled that all structures on land held in trust by the government for Indian tribes cannot be taxed by states and counties, even when the buildings are owned by non-Native Americans. That means homeowners in Shelter Bay and the Pull & Be Damned Road neighborhood no longer pay taxes directly supporting the school district, county and other public agencies, but pay property tax to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. Another factor that will shrink the local tax base even more is the increase in the senior and disabled exemptions passed by the Legislature this year. Previously, low-income people 61 and older and disabled people could have their taxes reduced if their incomes were $35,000 or less. Now the income threshold has been raised to $40,000 yearly. Thomas said recently that he estimates that county-wide, another 500 people could qualify. Not only will there be more people qualifying for exemptions, those with existing exemptions will see their taxable property values reduced considerably. In all cases, taxpayers with exemptions are free of “excess levies” — which means school taxes. So the taxes supporting the La Conner Schools, all approved by voters, including voters on the now tax-exempt lands on the Swinomish Reservation, will be shifted to the remaining taxpayers. For the 2015 tax year, there are presently 32 property owners in the town of La Conner with senior exemptions. Throughout the entire school district, which includes La Conner, there are 74 with exemptions. This year, school taxes accounted for close to 50 percent of the property tax bills. School board members have said they are working to avoid another tax increase for district property owners and even hope they can reduce the burden. In December, all the tax-supported agencies will submit their funding requests to the county, which collects the taxes and disburses the money. Tax bills are generally mailed by the County Treasurer in mid-February.