Opinion

Taxes 101

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OK, I know this topic is as dull as my vacation pictures, but I just

gotta cover it because it is a complex subject that everyone needs to

understand. Local School Taxes. I know, taxes either make you mad or bore you to

tears or both. But the better you understand, the better decision you can make as

I-695 takes effect.

Local school support (read taxes) are put on the ballot by the

school board and approved by voters. The State of Washington limits how

much our school district can receive. Mercer Island nicks its homeowners

almost 34 percent of its budget. We run about 24 percent of ours. The

overall budget is based mostly on the number of students served. More kids,

more money from the state and then the more money you can suck out …

oops I mean, tax locally.

I, like many out here, do not own my home. The bank does. Therefore

I do not receive a tax statement. The local school tax is only one of

many taxes on your property. There are state, county, city or unincorporated,

port, fire, library, emergency medical services, noxious weeds, and soil

conservation, to name a few. The total tax rate in my neck of the woods is

about 15 percent of the value of my property annually. Of that money

about $4.65 per "thou" goes to schools.

The biggest chunk of school support goes to the Maintenance and

Operations Levy. Ours runs about $2.50 per $1,000 assessed value. The

second biggest chunk is for bond debt. We are still paying for the high

school and the safety retrofit of the other schools, kind of like a mortgage.

This runs about $1.70/$1,000 assessed value. Then there are the little

guys like the bus levy which expired in 1999 which cost about .39/$1,000.

Hey wake up, I'm not finished yet!

So what happens when our lovely assessor's office decides that our

little patch of heaven is now worth twice what we paid for it, do our

taxes double? The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind … sorry the

answer is yes and no. If you are the only one who's humble abode is now

worth twice what you paid for it, yes, your taxes will double. But, if all of

your neighbors' assessments went up too, then no, your taxes will not change

at all! How could this be? I am just the girl to explain it.

When we vote for a levy, we approve a

dollar amount not a rate. For the year 1999, Riverview School

District is authorized to collect about 3.3 million dollars from almost one

billion in property value within our district. Instead of dividing the

amount equally among voters, they divide the money by assessed value of your

home and property. This is so that the people with the most property wealth pay

the most taxes. My remodel will cost me money because my assessment will

go up more than my neighbors' did even though it

still is not completely finished.

The good part about the spread of development throughout the Valley

is that all those people who move in will now pay part of the bill. When a

cow pasture becomes a Safeway, the property's assessed value goes

from about $50,000 to $10 million. The taxes go up for them and down for

you. But it begs a quality of life question: You can either have lots of

industry and pay lower taxes, or you can keep your area rural and pay more.

Actually, that is probably not true because if our school taxes go down, you

can be sure that the county will consider it free money and increase the

amount going to them.

The big question if you live in the Riverview School District is will

my taxes go up if I approve the three levies … M&O, Technology, and the

Performing Arts Center. The answer is most likely no. The M&O is a

renewal, the Tech and Arts levies combined are about the same as we authorized

for the buses, which are now paid off.

Historically we have only been able to vote on local school taxes

and Medic One. The only way we had to express our frustration at our

ever-increasing tax burden was to take it out on the kids, the ill and the

elderly. Thanks to I-695 we will now be able to vote on the other

nine types of taxes we pay on our property.

One final note: if you are a tax- paying senior citizen (61 or older)

or disabled person who makes less than $30,000 per year, you can file for

an exemption from local tax levies. For more information, it is a free local

call anywhere in King County, (206) 296-3920.

Kate Russell lives in between Duvall and Carnation. You

can reach her via e-mail at KATEMO1@MSN.COM.

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