Property values down, but many tax bills up

Library, school levies cause sticker shock for residents

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 
photoPeter Van Nortwick

Last February, when early returns showed all eight replacement school levy measures were passing despite the lousy economy, The Columbian reported that “a wave of relief and joy washed over Clark County schools.”

Another feeling might be washing over homeowners when they receive property tax statements this month.

Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick said Tuesday he’s already hearing from people who are upset that lower property values are not translating to smaller property tax bills.

The biggest increases will be seen by people who live in the Battle Ground and Evergreen school districts.

First-half taxes are due April 30.

Statements will be mailed next week to taxpayers whose property taxes are not paid through a mortgage company.

Van Nortwick said Tuesday that people should not call his office to ask why their property value dropped and their tax bill increased.

While elected officials in the county and cities are limited to increasing the property tax levy by 1 percent a year, voters actually control increases in junior taxing districts, such as school, library and fire districts.

“It’s just a complete shock for people in Battle Ground,” Van Nortwick said.

He gave this example for the Battle Ground Public Schools, where voters last year passed a $20.5 million maintenance and operations levy.

In the past year, the school district’s total property value declined 6.7 percent.

However, the higher levy amount means that despite the lower property values each homeowner will pay substantially more.

In 2010, the owner of a $200,000 home paid $444to the Battle Ground school district.

This year, the owner would pay $708 to the district if the property value did not drop.

If the value dropped 6.7 percent, the owner would pay $658 to the district.

In addition to passing school levies, voters also approved a levy increase for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District.

County commissioners increased the property tax levy rate by 1 percent, as did councils in every city with the exception of Camas and Washougal. Those cities are at the statutory limit.

If you can’t wait for your statement to arrive in the mail or want to know what your mortgage company will be paying on your behalf, go online to http://gis.clark.wa.gov/applications/gishome/property/ and enter your address. When your account comes up, click on “taxes” and you’ll see what you’ll owe this year.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.