Taxes for the median homeowner are going down in Seattle and up in Bellevue — but overall, tax rates are essentially flat in King County.
After years of big property-tax increases in King County, taxes are going up just $20 this year for the median homeowner, while homeowners in about half of cities will actually see a slight decrease.
Property owners start getting their bills Friday, and the news will vary depending on where you live – taxes will go up in some cities and down in about the same number. Altogether, the median homeowner countywide will pay 0.3 percent more than a year ago, according to the King County Assessor’s Office. It’s the smallest increase since 2012, when taxes dipped slightly.
At the least, it halts the tide of soaring property taxes, which grew 43 percent in the prior four years, increasing from $4,140 in 2014 to $5,904 in 2018 for the median homeowner countywide.
In the city of Seattle, where property taxes are declining 1.2 percent, the bill for the median house will drop from $5,709 last year to $5,642 this year.
The biggest drop is coming for residents of the small town of Pacific, where property taxes are declining 12.6 percent, followed by Maple Valley (down 11.9 percent), Skykomish (11.8 percent), Auburn (11.4 percent), Black Diamond (9.7 percent), Algona (9.1 percent) and Federal Way (8.9 percent). Taxes are also going down in Burien, Des Moines, Enumclaw, Mercer Island, Renton, SeaTac and Tukwila.
Not everyone is getting a break, however: In Bellevue, the median homeowner will pay 6.3 percent more, with taxes growing from $7,273 last year to $7,727 this year.
The biggest increase is in Bothell, where taxes are growing 14.6 percent after voters in November raised taxes for public safety. Taxes are also going up 7.1 percent in Kirkland, 7.1 percent in Woodinville, 6.6 percent in Shoreline, 5.3 percent in Redmond and 3.9 percent in Issaquah.
So what’s changed this year? Last year’s 17 percent increase was the largest in modern history, and two-thirds of the bump was due to the state Legislature raising taxes to fund education, in response to the McCleary court decision. A big part of that increase was due to go away, at least for this year.
Taxes would have gone down more, but voters and politicians approved, renewed or expanded several other taxes, particularly for school districts.
There’s a common misconception that property taxes move up and down uniformly with home values, and this year only makes that more confusing: Property taxes soared as home values did for much of the prior half-decade, and now they’re going in the other direction just as home values in the past year have dipped slightly.
But that’s mostly a coincidence, according to the assessor’s office: First, property values used to determine taxes are set a year in the past – so the bills you’ll be getting now reflect home values as of Jan. 1, 2018, back when the housing market was still the hottest in the country. Second, property taxes by law can go up only 1 percent a year, regardless of changing home values, unless voters or politicians choose to override that cap by approving higher taxes, as they so often have in the past half-decade.
However, taxes can go up based on home values alone if your home value rises more than your neighbor’s. That explains why some cities are seeing tax increases even if they didn’t approve new taxes. Home values in Kirkland, for instance, grew faster than the rest of the county a year ago, so homeowners there need to shoulder a larger share of the tax burden, the assessor’s office says. Countywide, assessed home values in January 2018 — the reference point for this year’s taxes — grew 13 percent, but 20 percent in Kirkland, compared to a year prior.
Where does your property tax money go? To lots of government agencies. It depends on where you live, but broadly, 55 percent goes toward schools and 18 percent goes to the county. Cities also get about 15 percent, while the rest is divvied up among special districts like Sound Transit, libraries, fire districts and the Port of Seattle.
Overall, the taxes in King County will raise $5.6 billion this year, down from $5.7 billion last year. Total tax collections went down 1 percent, despite the median bill ticking up just a bit, because of what the assessor’s office called a “statistical anomaly.” The exact details of how that happened were unclear, but the assessor’s office said it could have been because taxes in higher-end homes or cities dropped more, which would influence the total collections more than the median.
Twenty years ago, the taxes pulled in about $2 billion; 10 years ago, it was about $3.3 billion.
In Snohomish County, the typical homeowner will pay $4,280, down 1.8 percent from a year ago (click here for city-by-city breakdown). In Pierce County, most cities are seeing a decrease, as well – in Tacoma, for instance, tax bills are dropping 6.5 percent, to about $3,900.