A closer look into our property tax system

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April 15, 2021

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As your state senator, I care greatly about the tax burden placed upon people of North Central Washington, but it is important for you to know that I am not opposed to all taxes. Taxes do play a role in society and help us fund key services. However, when voting on tax proposals in Olympia, I definitely seek to minimize tax burdens so that families have more of their own earnings available to them. I also strongly believe that government entities should always demonstrate a prudent use of tax dollars.

Local, state, and federal taxes

Taxes are applied to us at all levels of government (local, state, and federal). The level of government originating the taxes is an important consideration. For example, as your state senator, I do not specifically control the “city” or “county” taxes within your communities except for authorities the state may grant local governments for taxation. Local taxes are decided by your city councils, county commissions, or by the community voters. I also have no vote in the “federal” taxes determined by the United States Congress. Those taxes are determined by federal lawmakers. As a state legislator, I am involved in the “state” level taxes. The primary taxes in Washington state include sales and business taxes, although a portion of the sales tax is a function of local government decisions. The state Legislature recently approved a new capital gains income tax, which I voted against. If this new tax is upheld, it will create a new, additional tax in Washington state.

What taxes does our "state" collect?

WA tax revenue sources

This chart shows the tax revenues expected for state budgeting purposes. (Local and federal taxes are not shown in this chart). While most of your property taxes are local taxes, a portion of your property taxes is a “state school levy,” which contributes to state revenue. The other school taxes are local school taxes.

Understanding the property tax system

Of all the taxes collected among all levels of government, the one I receive the most questions and complaints about is the property tax. Understanding the property tax system can be quite challenging. Fortunately, for this email newsletter, I was able to consult with both Chelan County Assessor Deanna Walter and Douglas County Assessor Jim Ruud, whose websites provide excellent resources for a more in-depth understanding of property taxes. It is important to note that assessors, including the Okanogan and Grant County assessors who are also located in our region, determine the value of the property in a county. The county treasurers collect property tax revenues. Neither the assessors nor the treasurers determine the taxes approved. Those decisions are the responsibility of other local governments officials or the voters within the particular jurisdiction.

Douglas County property taxes 2021

This graph shows property taxes in Douglas County. The state portion of the property tax is approximately 27 percent. The remaining amounts are each locally determined, either by elected officials or community votes.

Property taxes vary depending on where you live

The property tax bill that you receive is actually a collection of multiple different property taxes and assessments, most of which pertain to the local jurisdiction in which you live. The property tax statement includes an itemized list showing the responsible entity for the property taxes you pay. One way that I like to explain things is to think of your overall property tax bill as one round-shaped pie. Various entities receive their revenue from slices of the pie. Since the state relies primarily on sales and business taxes to fund its programs, only a slice of what you pay in property taxes is actually the state portion.

Remaining slices (some larger than others) are comprised of taxes from various local governments for such things as school levies, school bonds, fire response, library, and other local services. Some of these property taxes, such as local school district levies and bonds, are subject to the approval of local voters and the amounts are often increased. Residents of one jurisdiction can pay more or less property taxes than residents of another jurisdiction depending on the measures approved by voters in that area. For example, if you live in the unincorporated area of the county, you will not pay the city property tax as you live outside of that boundary. However, you likely still pay the school district’s taxes because your home resides within the school district boundaries.

Payment of property taxes

How you pay your property taxes may also vary based on your personal preferences. Some residents pay their annual property taxes twice a year with half payments by April 30 and October 31. Others can pay the full year’s tax by April 30, if they can afford it and do not want to risk forgetting to pay the second portion. Many property owners have their property taxes included with their monthly mortgage payments as part of their escrow account. While that is certainly a convenient option, it may somewhat disguise what you are paying in property taxes. As your state senator, I often hear from senior citizens throughout North Central Washington over concerns about their rising property taxes.

Many people believe that seniors on fixed incomes are the most concerned among us about property taxes. While that is certainly possible, I think another possibility as to why seniors are the most vocal about property taxes is because they are the ones among us who are more likely to have their homes paid off. As a result, their property taxes are no longer included in their monthly payments, requiring them to pay separately for their property taxes. When the property tax payments are separate, they are more noticeable and more scrutinized. Current law provides a variety of authorized reductions, exemptions, deferrals, and other assistance to property taxpayers. Creating more reductions and exemptions can cause complications, however, because as more properties are exempted from paying, the overall tax burden is applied to the remaining taxable properties. This results in a “tax shift” with all of the other properties paying more.

Chelan County property taxes 2021

This graph shows the property tax distribution in Chelan County. Each county’s distribution is different based on the taxes collected in that particular county. For Okanogan County and Grant County residents, please contact your county assessor.

Assessed value and community valuation

The assessed value of property in addition to the tax rates is a contributor to what property owners pay. If a tax rate remains the same but a property’s value increases, a property owner likely pays more. When the total value of assets throughout a particular jurisdiction increases, often due to enhanced residential and commercial development, the tax-requesting governmental entity enjoys the benefit of that total dollar amount it is seeking in taxes being spread over more paying and valued properties, helping to keep the tax manageable. Generally speaking, new businesses or additional home development in a community help increase the overall valuation of an area’s property, which spreads around any fixed tax burden to more taxpayers.

Douglas County property tax statement

A sample Douglas County property tax statement with additional explanations for a home assessed at $400,500 within the City of East Wenatchee. Property taxes vary based on the decisions of the jurisdictions in which you reside. School district taxes, for example, vary by school district. Click here for a larger view.

Links to more information

Most property taxes are determined locally

The Washington state operating budget relies primarily on sales and business taxes for its revenues. Only a portion of your property tax is collected for state government purposes. The property tax is primarily a local tax function with some property taxes approved by your various local elected officials and some that are subject to a local vote. The local school levies, school bonds for buildings, fire district levies, port district taxes, library district taxes and others – along with the value of your property and the surrounding property in your area – all affect what you pay in property taxes.

Chelan County property tax statement

A sample Chelan County property tax statement with additional explanations. This sample is for a home assessed at $400,000 within the City of Wenatchee. Property taxes vary based on the decisions of the jurisdictions in which you reside. Some homes, for example, reside in certain special purpose taxing districts whereas others do not. Click here for a larger view.

Listen to my recent local radio interviews

Each week during the legislative session, I call our local radio stations to participate in live interviews about the latest happenings in the legislative session. If you'd like to hear my most recent interviews, click on these links for KPQKOHO, and KOZI.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!

I hope this information was helpful to better understand the complicated system of property taxes. Special thanks to Chelan County Assessor Deanna Walter and Douglas County Assessor Jim Ruud for their help and to all the county assessors in District 12. If you have questions about your property tax bill, you could first reach out to your Chelan, Douglas, Grant, or Okanogan County assessors and they can point you in the right direction concerning the various property taxes in your statement.

If you would like to hear my audio summary about property taxes, click here.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state senator.



Brad Hawkins

State Senator Brad Hawkins
12th Legislative District
E-mail: brad.hawkins@leg.wa.gov 

Website: senatorbradhawkins.org

107 Newhouse Building - P.O. Box 40412 | Olympia, WA 98504-0412
(360) 786-7622 or Toll-free: (800) 562-6000