State school taxes will go up in 2018

(By Jamie Henneman/Chewelah Independent)

County treasurer, assessor warn residents to plan ahead…

As many residents in Stevens County are making their second property tax payment for 2017 this month, county officials are encouraging residents to plan ahead for a tax increase coming in 2018.

The $43.7 billion two-year budget passed by the Washington State Legislature this year included a significant property tax increase designed to help the state fulfill its court-ordered mandate to fully fund public education. A lawsuit in 2007,McCleary v. State of Washington, argued the legislature was not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to fully fund public education. The Washington State Supreme Court agreed with the suit and in 2012 ordered the legislature to raise public education funding.

The result was a $6.6 billion increase in the state budget for public education over the next four years, much of that money derived from property tax revenues. The impact of this budget decision will be significant for Stevens County taxpayers, according to Stevens County Assessor John Olson.

“We anticipate the increase will be as much as 90 cents per thousand dollars assessed” said Olson. “That means the current state school levy of $2.01 could be as much as $2.91 next year.”

Based on the average home value in Stevens County of $146,000 assessed value, the 2018 state school levy would require roughly $424 in taxes. The same home in 2017 would have only paid $295 in state school taxes. Those tax figures do not include local school levies, county levies or other property tax assessments.

How the increased state school levy will be distributed to local school districts is not yet known, but state superintendent’s office anticipates local school districts will be able to run “enrichment levies” in the future instead of the current Maintenance and Operation (M&O) levies.

“M&O levies will be replaced by what the legislature is calling ‘enrichment levies.’ As the name implies, the levies will be used for enrichment purposes, beyond what the state is providing as basic education,” said Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction media staffer Nathan Olson.

Stevens County Treasurer Leslie Valz said the increase is something people will have to plan ahead for.

“Right now is a good time to start making financial plans on how to handle the increase, whether that is putting more back for savings or talking with their bank about increasing the amount of their monthly payment so they have more set back in escrow to pay next year’s taxes,” she said.

For those on fixed incomes, Valz and Olson said there are options. In the assessor’s office, seniors may be able to qualify for property tax decreases based on their income. However, Olson did note that when certain taxpayers get reductions or exemptions, their tax is then passed onto other property owners in their area. More information on senior and disabled exemptions is available by calling the Stevens County Assessor’s office at 684-6161.

The county treasurer is also able to work with residents regarding payment options on delinquent property taxes, according to Valz. Cooperation between property owners and the county treasurer has helped to keep tax foreclosures in the county low, Valz noted, with only four foreclosures last year. For more information, contact the Stevens County Treasurer at 684-6593.