By Jack Mayne
King County Assessor John Wilson told the Burien City Council at their Monday night meeting that changes largely brought on by the pandemic where Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay at home; stay safe” order had “immediate effects” including for hotels, the hospitality sector, restaurants and sporting events.
Burien felt the shutdowns in various ways, he said, but the impact on the residential sector was “fairly small. Home values didn’t drop and, in some cases, went up a little bit.”
But various sectors – for example the City of Burien government – had to shift to a virtual model.
Senior tax program increased
Wilson said the county last year changed the senior property tax exemption program. Previously, he said it had a household income limit of $40,000 across the entire state. Now the income limit has been raised to $58,423.
He said they expected some increase in applicants but “we ended with a 300 percent increase in the number of people applying,” so there is a backlog of applicants. His office is working on the backlog but residents should look closely at the benefits of applying for the senior program.
“If you quality for the full exemptions … last year it would have saved you more that $4,300 on the property tax bill. A partial exemption … would have saved you $3,414 on your property taxes,” he said
If the homeowner is at the top income bracket of $58,423 it still would have saved a property tax payer $2,582, said Wilson.
“That’s great because that makes a real difference to citizens and to homeowners and residents to be able to stay in that home rather than getting the feeling they are getting taxed out.”
State’s economic engine
Over the last year, Wilson said “countywide, 21 taxes are up a little over 4 percent. Total King County property tax revenue is actually up $256 million.
“Overall, we generate local property taxes of $6.6 billion for schools and communities like Burien for fire districts, the Port, the county,” Wilson said.
“King County, by itself, provides roughly 47 percent of the stat’s entire property tax revenue each year,” Wilson said. “We are the economic engine that drives the rest of the state.”
Housing prices up 20–22 percent
Over half of the property tax, 57 percent, goes to K-12 education, he said. The County gets about 17 percent of the property tax revenue and the Port of Seattle just over 1 percent, fire districts 3 percent, Sound Transit gets 2 percent and cities in the county about 15 percent.
Despite the pandemic and other problems, residential housing values will keep increasing, Wilson said, with cities south and southeast of Seattle along with Burien and environs having values increasing “significantly.”
In some cases, housing values in Southeast King County, are increasing “anywhere from 20 percent to 22 percent.
“It’s driven by strong demand and scarce inventory,” Wilson said. “You’ve seen bidding wars, where a seller will place a home on the market at a certain price below market but they know a bidding war will drive that price well above that market and that can be from a few thousand dollars to in the case of some homes to literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“We are talking to other assessors around the state this year about finally trying to push forward … a homestead exemption, owner-occupant tax relief,” he said, “where we would take a certain percentage or certain dollar amount, right off the top of your property value to help reduce your property taxes.”
“The idea is to provide working families and first time and long time home owners a chance to get a piece of the so-called American Dream to have a home that they can call their own,” Wilson told the Council.