Clark County has highest property tax levy rate in state

Drop in values, increase in voter-approved levies result in dubious distinction

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The state confirmed Thursday what property owners in Clark County suspected: the average single-family residential property tax bill increased from 2010 to 2011, by $134.

But it might come as an unwelcome surprise to learn a significant drop in property values and increase in voter-approved levies conspired to give Clark County the highest average property tax levy rate in the state.

“We have a budget-based system, so if the value goes down, the rates have to go up,” said Mike Gowrylow, spokesman for the Washington state Department of Revenue.

Then add in voter-approved levy increases, which, as reported in February when property tax statements were mailed out, hit people the hardest in the Battle Ground and Evergreen school districts.

As a result, the county’s average levy rate increased from $11.60 to $13.17 per $1,000 of assessed value, according to figures released Thursday.

The average single-family residential property tax bill increased from $2,573 to $2,707, Gowrylow said.

That puts the county on point with the statewide average tax bill, which was $2,718, up $101 from last year.

The statewide average levy rate increased from $10.28 per $1,000 of assessed value to $11.14.

Last year, Clark County’s average levy rate of $11.60 ranked it 10th statewide; Walla Walla had the highest average rate at $12.67 per $1,000 of assessed value that year.

Since 2004, Clark County’s levy rate has been higher than the state average with the exception of 2007, when the state average was $10.48 and Clark County’s was $10.25.

The 2011 figure doesn’t break any records, as the county’s average levy rate in 2004 was $13.30. Several counties, including Franklin, Garfield, Pierce, Grant, Pacific, Spokane, Whitman and Walla Walla have had rates at $14 or higher.

The total assessed value of all taxable property in Clark County dropped 8.4 percent. Revenues were up by nearly 4 percent.

Statewide, assessed value dropped 4.2 percent but revenues increased 4 percent, from $8.8 billion to $9.2 billion; the increase was attributed to new construction and higher voter-approved levies, Gowrylow said.

He cautioned against making too much out of Clark County’s average levy rate.

“Rates in San Juan County are really low ($5.35 per $1,000 of assessed value) but the values are high and so are the property taxes,” he said. “The amount of tax raised is more meaningful than the rate it took to raise it because of the fluctuations in value, new construction and voter approvals.”

Had new construction not added to the tax rolls in Clark County, the total assessed value of all taxable property would have dropped 9.2 percent.

Who gets what?

The county’s property tax revenue increased by $18.6 million, or 3.9 percent, mirroring the statewide figure of 4 percent

Statewide, voters approved 39.7 percent of property taxes through school levies and bonds, levy lid lifts for fire districts and other junior taxing districts and funding for emergency medical services, Gowrylow said.

This was up 1.1 percent from 38.6 percent of property taxes due last year, he said.

In Clark County, the 8.4 percent decrease in total assessed value of all taxable property was the third-largest decrease, behind Island County (10.8 percent) and Snohomish County (8.9 percent).

Pierce County (8.1 percent) and Thurston County (7.2 percent) saw similar drops.

Columbia County (12.2 percent), Okanogan County (9.7 percent) and Klickitat County (8.7 percent) saw the biggest increases.

The state’s most populous county, King, saw its total assessed valuation drop 3.4 percent.

As for who gets what, counties receive 16.2 percent of total property tax revenues, while cities get 13.2 percent and junior taxing districts (fire districts, ports, libraries) share 15.7 percent.

The largest share of property taxes — 54.9 percent — goes to K-12 schools through the state school levy and voter-approved local levies and bonds.

In Clark County, voter-approved levies were the biggest reason why assessed values dropped but revenues increased.

Of the $498 million paid in property taxes in Clark County, here’s a breakdown of where it went: $86 million to the state levy; $57 million to the county general fund; $35 million to the county road fund; $58 million to cities; $194 million to school districts; $21 million to library districts; $27 million to fire districts; $12 million to port districts; and $5 million to emergency medical services.

The balance ($3 million) went to park, cemetery and other small taxing districts.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.