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Some homeowners in the Puget Sound region will face big property-tax increases

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The press release from the Pierce County assessor’s office was blunt: “There’s no sugar-coating it, property tax bills will be bigger this year.”

The state legislature has invested in public education in recent years to satisfy the long-running McCleary school-finance lawsuit, and that money is coming from a state property tax increase. The legislature also raised the maximum that school districts can collect in local levies.

All of that will show up in people’s property tax bills this year. In some cases, people will see double-digit increases.

Assessors for Thurston, Snohomish and Skagit counties have also told property owners to expect to pay more this year. The King County assessor’s office has not issued information about 2020 property taxes yet.

Mike Lonergan, assessor-treasurer for Pierce County, said 58 percent of the property taxes his office collects go toward the public school system. He said the increase stems in part from the legislature lifting the maximum that school districts can raise through local levies to $2.50 per $1,000 in assessed property value from $1.50, and also because a 30-cent reduction in the state school levy expired.

The average tax bill will go up hundreds of dollars — or even more — in much of Pierce County, he said.

“University Place has very high property values relative to the rest of the county already,” Lonergan said. “The average house in University Place will pay about $1,000 more property tax this year than last year.”

The average homeowner in Gig Harbor will pay about $630 more this year, and the average homeowner in Tacoma will pay an extra $550 more than last year.

Lonergan said he’s been hearing a range of opinions from homeowners about the property tax increases.

“Some people say, 'Well, I voted for this. I want good schools, so what’s the problem?’” he said. “Then others are saying, 'This is a very large increase.’ Anything that goes up double-digit percentages in one year seems out of line to people.”

Some low-income seniors or people with disabilities can qualify for a property tax exemption, and the income threshold to qualify has gone up, so more people may be able to get that relief.

King County said it has added an online portal for low-income seniors, people with disabilities or veterans to apply for property tax relief.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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