Those in Clark County who were hurting after last year’s property taxes are likely to find reprieve as changes in state and local funding for what’s due this year could drop bills by hundreds in all but one school district.
Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick and newly-elected Clark County Treasurer Alishia Topper presented as much during an information session in the Evergreen Public Schools board room Jan. 30. They were there to speak and answer questions regarding a two-year process brought on by the state Legislature addressing K-12 education funding, a mandate from the state Supreme Court in their McCleary decision.
Property taxes went up across the county in 2018 with an increase in the amount the state collects to fund schools. Van Nortwick said that last year the state’s share went up from about $1.98 to $2.89 per $1,000 in Clark County.
This year, bills will look different and, save the La Center School District, will likely be smaller.
“The majority of people in Clark County will likely see a decrease in their taxes overall because of the state schools (tax) change,” Topper said. Those reductions were in two parts — she explained one was a temporary, Legislature-approved 30 cent drop per $1,000 of assessed value.
Another change this year is to what were called maintenance and operations (M&O) levies previously, now known as enhancement levies, which would be capped at $1.50 per $1,000.
In Clark County the former M&O levies ranged from $2.24 per $1,000 in the Ridgefield School District to $3.46 for Battle Ground Public Schools. For the majority of Clark County school districts the cap on levies resulted in a net decrease to property taxes when it came to school funding. La Center School District’s total tax bill would go up, which Van Nortwick explained was due to a capital facilities bond that passed in 2018 to build a new middle school.
Van Nortwick noted that an upcoming capital facilities bond for Ridgefield schools had some confusion over what that tax, if passed by a supermajority of voters, would look like. He said the bond itself — not including any changes at the state level or with current levies and bonds for the district — was looking to be $1.06 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $424 more annually on a $400,000 home.
Topper brought up that the changes in state and local collections could mean that some districts wouldn’t have as much funding because what was paid into the state’s bigger share was distributed across Washington.
“As we cap these $1.50 local levies, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re getting an equal amount of money back from the state to cover those costs,” Topper said.
Van Nortwick explained that a shift from a dollar-amount budget for levies to a rate-based system, like what the current state schools and local levy collection was, could create problems for districts who didn’t have a complete picture of what they would receive this year until December when the Assessor’s Office imposed the rate caps.
“This is like a tax rollercoaster,” Topper said about the past few years of property tax shifts. She mentioned that after 2021 the state schools rate would go to a budget-based system — she reasoned that having a rate for the first few years would help with any unknowns on bumping up school funding at that level.
Though Van Nortwick acknowledged that currently the 30-cent reduction is set to expire next year, Topper noted that this year’s long Legislative session could bring a host of changes should bills get passed.
“A lot will happen or won’t happen this year” in the Legislature, she said, “so we’re trying to stick to 2019.”