Tax facts: County Assessor Lloyd Hara’s West Seattle visit

Property-tax bills have all gone out, and King County Assessor Lloyd Hara is out making the rounds to explain why his office is more than just the place that sends you those bills. He visited West Seattle in the Monday morning sunshine:

(Photo by WSB co-publisher Patrick Sand)
In a chat with WSB, Hara shared some stats:

-Median assessed value in West Seattle for last year (half of the properties are worth more, half worth less): $448,600

-That’s down almost 7 percent from the previous year’s $481,300 median assessed value

-This year’s tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is $10.17, up from last year’s $9.66

-Breakdown of where your property taxes go: 53 percent schools, 27 percent “local government,” 18 percent King County, 2 percent Port of Seattle

That brings in the question “My property values decreased, so why did my property tax increase?” Hara’s office explains: “Washington is one of two states that has a revenue-based system of taxation: Taxing districts, such as fire, library and school districts, submit their annual adopted budgets to the Assessor, who has the responsibility to determine the “levy rate” that is necessary to meet the adopted budgets.”

His office has noticed trends including the resurgence in new construction, and the fact that “neighborhoods closer to the urban core have retained value better than outlying areas of the county.”

And as Hara makes the rounds – before our chat, he had met with the team at Windermere West Seattle – he’s highlighting some of his office’s changes, such as residential appraisers field-testing iPads, handy for a variety of reasons including the built-in camera and the fact they can synch up with the office – the more mobility, the more productivity, they believe. They’re also “developing a native iPad application for field-data collection.” Plus, the Assessor’s Office says iPad use “will save $250,000 in hardware-replacement costs.”

Also on the tech front, they want to be sure you know about all the online lookup tools they have available – starting here. (Personally, we’re partial to the Parcel Viewer, which can tell you who owns a particular piece of property, as well as other info such as its value, past sales, and more.)

27 Replies to "Tax facts: County Assessor Lloyd Hara's West Seattle visit"

  • WSTheHouse February 29, 2012 (7:03 am)

    Lloyd, I want to be the first one to call for your resignation. For a government entity to be spending our tax dollars on iPads just to more efficiently tax us is ridiculous.

  • Westseattleperson February 29, 2012 (7:39 am)

    Our laptop died and we’re replacing it with an iPad.
    Cheaper and more mobile. Sounds like a good plan for government too. I assume their next budget will reflect the savings though… Ha ha.

  • Tuesday February 29, 2012 (8:01 am)

    *Taxing districts, such as fire, library and school districts, submit their annual adopted budgets to the Assessor, who has the responsibility to determine the “levy rate” that is necessary to meet the adopted budgets.”* Wow, that scares me more than anything I’ve learned about Washington since we moved here. That sounds absolutely insane.

    • WSB February 29, 2012 (8:14 am)

      For those interested, I found more details on this process on this page of the assessor’s website:
      It elaborates that much of that is from levies approved by voters: “To determine your tax rate, officials divide the total amount of money needed for your district by the total value of property in your district. Then, they add up all the levy rates of the various taxing districts in which your property is located. The assessed value of your property, multiplied by the combined rate, produces a tax amount which is your fair share of the total property tax levy in your area. The King County Treasurer issues tax statements and taxes are paid to the King County Treasury Operations.”
      Regarding costs, while I didn’t include it in the copy above, since that question’s been raised in discussion here, the info they shared included the notes that an “improvement” to the annual valuation notice process “will save $120,000 in annual postage costs and promote staff efficiencies,” and that a consolidation of office space for this department “from two floors to one floor will free space and save $140,000 annually.” I believe the former involves smaller postcards with the property-valuation and tax info, though I haven’t found a citation for that yet. Having owned our house since 1993, I remember the original such postcards were definitely bigger than the ones received now.

  • Tuesday February 29, 2012 (8:03 am)

    I highly doubt they’re replacing their computers with iPads. I’m sure it’s entirely additional.

  • Rick February 29, 2012 (8:34 am)

    Wow, I didn’t realize smaller postcards would help me in the biggest recession since the Great Depression. I feel better now. Values down,taxes up. We used to call it the “new math”.

  • Rick February 29, 2012 (8:46 am)

    And of course, none of those iPads would be used for personal use. Of course

  • JDD February 29, 2012 (9:00 am)

    The process is totally back-asswards and embarassing. Enough monetary confiscation. I think I’ll set my family budget, then go to my company and tell them the revenue I need to meet it. See how that works.

  • Andrew Beck February 29, 2012 (9:13 am)

    I actually write the software that calculates the property taxes in most of the large Washington counties (not King though). Let me assure you that the way the taxes are done here are much better than in most of the other states where we also have customers.

  • Denny February 29, 2012 (9:42 am)

    I understand some people’s responses to iPads as a extravagant expense and not needed. This is the same old argument as when laptops began a higher rate of adoption, cellphones too. Entry point on an iPad is $500 – much lower than the initial pricing on laptops ($2k).
    If these devices save even an hour per week per staff person, that more than pays for it.
    Tablets are a smart investment as industries and government agencies look to replace their field based technology. As for personal use of government resources – King County sets high standards for their employees and holds them to it (sibling is employee).
    King County has in short time made significant gains in savings and runs more efficiently today. Nice work to Constantine & Hara.

  • Rick February 29, 2012 (10:10 am)


  • datamuse February 29, 2012 (10:26 am)

    JDD: I believe that’s called salary negotiation. You don’t do that?

  • Tuesday February 29, 2012 (10:53 am)

    I’ll believe the “greater efficiency in our local government” assertion when it actually translates lower taxes (especially in years when assessed property values go down!)… and to be clear, the ever popular political style savings of “lower increases” doesn’t count. Also, in salary negotiations in a privately owned organization you have to justify your additional value as an employee, you don’t just head in with your ideal home budget and say “I need X number of dollars, increase my salary to what I want.”

  • Brandon Evans February 29, 2012 (11:32 am)

    A few years ago, property taxes were rising as property value decreased. The excuse I remember from then was that the system the government used to calculate property value lagged behind the calculation for taxes resulting in a tax rate that didn’t reflect current property value decreases. It seems now that was either wrong information, my memory is bad (entirely possible), or complete fabrication.

    Given that property values have been declining for a number of years now, we should see that reflected in our taxes. Any system that doesn’t reflect that needs to be seriously reviewed and changed.

  • Jim February 29, 2012 (11:32 am)

    Reading the Citizens Guide to Property Taxes to which a link was posted above, taxing districts can only raise the amount they want to collect by 1% a year. Not by whatever they think their budget ought to be.
    The amount to be raised is set by the people we elect.
    The excess amounts (think school levy, families and education, parks, library, pike place market renovation, etc etc were all voted on by a majority of us. If you think property taxes are a rip-off, don’t vote in favor of these levies, convince elected officials not to put them on the ballot, convince a majority of people to vote against them.
    Most of us must think the levy money is worthwhile, we voted to pass them.

  • datamuse February 29, 2012 (11:49 am)

    Thank you for highlighting the lack of basis for comparison, Tuesday.

  • Tuesday February 29, 2012 (12:08 pm)

    Hmmm, I thought I was highlighting the idiocy of a system that presents “budgets” and then funds them by increasing property taxes to whatever levels are needed to cover them. I guess I wasn’t clear enough.

  • Always Confused February 29, 2012 (12:37 pm)

    Where would the money come from if the property taxes and sales taxes aren’t adjusted as the budgets change? From thin air? Just wondering…

  • G February 29, 2012 (1:03 pm)

    Got it. Your property taxes are based on the assessed value of your home – unless we need more money. That just makes my day, Mr. Hara!

  • datamuse February 29, 2012 (1:15 pm)

    My point is, comparing this to an individual’s salary from a private employer doesn’t really work.
    I can’t claim to be entirely objective, maybe, but what I mostly see is a county increasingly unable to fund the basics and a taxation system that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense–we probably agree on that part. But where IS the money supposed to come from? At what point do we get to where we CAN’T just “do without”?

  • NDelridge February 29, 2012 (1:25 pm)

    I completely agree, WSTheHouse! There’s difference between efficiency and luxury. It’s exasperating that those charged with managing our tax dollars don’t seem to know the difference. Their decision to buy something as non-essential as a bunch of iPads is nothing short of irresponsible. True, tablets may aide in increased productivity, but to make such a large purchase amidst a years long, deep recession is careless. The fact that they chose a top of the line, name brand adds insult to injury. Waiting a year or two for the economy to recover and then springing for a more budget friendly option would have been a wiser choice.

  • Tuesday February 29, 2012 (2:19 pm)

    datamuse, I think we may fundamentally differ on what would be considered basic. I see state spending (or calls for state spending) on things things I would consider nowhere near basic. So hearing that, although their property values are declining, people are asked to absorb even higher tax rates seems highly unfair. There is almost always an outcry for more spending for this or that, all I am saying is where is the compassion for property owners that are trying to deal with the consequences of an economy that isn’t as robust as it once was? At what point does government have to stop demanding more? It’s a complex system, and getting more complex every year, and sadly… there are no answers that will please everyone.

  • huindekmi February 29, 2012 (3:48 pm)

    The property values might be declining, but are the levies voted on and passed by the citizenry going down? Is the cost of paving streets or educating our children going down?
    Your property value is compared with the property values of the other homes in our city to determine your share of what WE as a society have collectively decided to pay for.
    The government is not “demanding more”. We voted on and passed those levies. We passed the laws setting the minimum standards for education. WE are the ones placing the demands. Don’t like it? Vote differently.

  • datamuse February 29, 2012 (4:47 pm)

    The thing is, NDelridge, if you have some sort of cyclical plan for replacing things like computers (or tablets, I guess), it’s sometimes more expensive in the long run to wait. For years where I work we didn’t have that kind of plan in place and it caused serious problems in lost productivity as things broke down, couldn’t keep up with new software demands, etc. I just question the default assumption that any expenditure I don’t personally like is automatically wasteful.
    Tuesday, we may differ on that less than you think…I’m certainly not arguing that the government (or any other complex entity) always spends wisely. On the other hand, how many complaints do we hear just in recent months about the condition of city streets (and holy cow, if you’re a bicyclist you can really see how bad some of them are, I’ve seen potholes big enough to lose my bike in), degraded school facilities, and the like? It’s not like that stuff automatically becomes less expensive when property values fall.

  • Tuesday February 29, 2012 (5:01 pm)

    If it were only education and street paving we were talking about I don’t think there would be a problem. And some of us already are voting differently.

  • Tuesday February 29, 2012 (6:07 pm)

    Datamuse, I agree that roads are in terrible disrepair, etc. My concern is that money is not spent on essentials first. Tax revenue appears to first be spent on far less “critical to everyone” services and then when it comes time to pay for things like road maintenance there’s an outcry for more money because, of course, there isn’t enough left over. I believe this is because the essentials are easy issues for elected officials to rally people behind.

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