Assessor's Office

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Assessor's Office

Assessor: David M. Thomas
Significant Events in the History of
Property Tax in Washington State
1853 U.S. Organic Act established territorial government all taxes to be assessed uniformly; exemption for property of the United States, churches and benevolent institutions.
1886 Revenue producing property of churches is taxable.
1889 State Constitution adopted -property to be assessed uniformly.
1900 $300 of personal property per household exempt.
1925 Exemptions for private schools and colleges.
1929 14th Amendment to State Constitution: Classification of property is allowed with all real estate being one class; all taxes to be uniform upon the same class of property within the boundaries of the taxing authority levying the tax.
1931 Yield tax on reforestation lands and mines permitted (effective 1931); certain intangibles exempt from the property tax.
1932 Initiative imposed a 40 mill limit on combined regular levies of all taxing districts with property assessed at 50 percent of value. Redd v. State Tax Commission limited state authority over local assessments.
1935 Revenue Act exempted all household goods and personal effects.
1937 On-highway motor vehicles exempt from property taxes. Excise tax (1.5 percent of value) for on-highway motor vehicles adopted.
1943 House trailers exempt from the property tax and made subject to the 1.5 percent motor vehicle excise tax.
1944 17th Amendment to State Constitution: Adds 40 mill limit. Property to be assessed at 50 percent of true and fair value.
1955 Property revaluation cycle established at a 4 year interval.
1961 Freeport exemption granted for goods in transit.
1965 47th Amendment to the State Constitution: Allows retired persons property exemption.
1967 Senior citizens exempt from first $50 of real property tax. Barlow v. Kinnear provided the state with assessment equalization power.
1968 53rd Amendment to State Constitution: Provides current use assessment for open space, timber, and agricultural lands.
1969 State sponsored revaluation plan instituted to make the 1955 revaluation act fully effective. Carkonen v. Williams mandated a 50 percent ratio of assessment value to market value.
1970 Open Space Law implements 53rd Amendment: Leases of public land subject to assessment.
1971 $50 senior citizen exemption replaced by exemption from special levies ($4,000 and under income qualification for 100 percent exemption; $4,001 to $6,000 income for 50 percent exemption). Annual increase in regular levies of local taxing districts limited to 106 percent of the largest regular levy of three previous years, effective 1974 taxes. Annual updating of property values permitted. Standing timber exempt from the property tax and an excise tax based on stumpage value imposed to replace this revenue source. Expanded exemption for facilities of private schools. Moratorium until 1973 on leasehold estates. Deduction of selling costs (overruled in 1972). Interest on delinquent property taxes lowered from 10 percent to 5 percent per year up to $500, 10 percent on balance. If first half paid timely (by April 30th) and second half becomes delinquent (after October 31st), interest rate is 10 percent per year.
1972 Home Improvement Exemption Created: Up to 30 percent of original value exempt from property taxation for three years. Approval of SJR1 constitutionally limiting all regular levies to 1 percent of property value ($10.00 per $1,000 of assessed value). Removal of 40 percent voter turnout requirement for special levies (60 percent majority requirement for approval retained).
1973 Assessment level increased from 50 percent to 100 percent of true and fair value for 1975 taxes. 55th Amendment to State Constitution effective for 1973 taxes Hoppe v. Kinnear): 20 mill maximum for regular levies, with no state levy. Current use assessment of farm land based on net cash rental value. Permanently affixed mobile. homes returned to the property tax system.
1974 Ten year phase-out of property tax on inventories authorized (10 percent per year, accomplished through annually increasing B&O tax credits), completed in 1983. Eight per cent delinquency rate established. Fire district service charge approved (to be proportional to benefits conferred by the district; aggregate charges limited to 60 percent of the district operating budget for the year the charge is imposed, and must be approved by a 60 percent majority of the district's voters). Senior citizen exemption provisions revised. Qualified taxpayers with annual income of $5,001 to $6,000 exempt from 50 percent of excess levies. Those with income of $5,000 or less exempt from 100 percent of excess levies. If income is $4,000 or less, an additional exemption from regular levies on the first $5,000 of property assessed value is provided. Phase-in of exemption for livestock.
1975 100 percent assessment ratio implemented and statutory rate limit reduced to $9.15 per $1,000 assessed value (Legislature set maximum at $10.00 per $1,000 of assessed value. Then, $1,000 assessed value (Legislature set maximum at $10.00 per $1,000 of assessed value. Then, in allocating the reduced rate, cut maximum rates of certain district categories by an additional 10 percent). Deferral of property taxes and special assessments allowed for senior citizens with income of less than $8,000 (income to be adjusted annually based on Consumer Price Index).
1976 64th Amendment to State Constitution: Permits school districts to seek voter approval of two-year special levies.
1977 Senior citizen exemption qualifying income levels increased by $2,700. Property tax exemption for solar energy facilities approved. Phase-in of special M&O (maintenance & operation) school levy limited to 10 percent of prior year expenditure for basic education; to be fully effective by 15 81 levies.
1978 Seattle School District v. State requires full state funding of K-12 education.
1979 State levy for common school support subject to 106 percent limitation.
1980 Senior Citizen Exemption Revised: One-third exclusion for social security income eliminated but qualifying income levels increased by $3,000. Exemption for gasohol manufacturing facilities and for added value of unconventional energy systems (until 1987) authorized. Persons with life estates eligible for senior citizen exemption. Compensating tax on open space lands shifted from buyer to seller. Forest land value adopted for 1982; to be updated by Department of Revenue based on five-year average stumpage value.
1981 Interest rate on delinquent, non-deferred, property taxes increased from 8 percent to 12 percent (effective 7126181). New penalty of 11 percent for first year delinquencies (effective 1/1/82). Foreclosure period shortened from 5 years to 3 years (effective 5/83). Exemption for non-profit musical and artistic organizations and public assembly halls established. Valuation reduction process changed for property involved in natural disaster damage -- no longer necessary to make application. Levy allowed for park and recreation service areas. Statutory values established for forest lands.
1982 Physical inspection requirement extended to six years, if assessor updates values annually. Port industrial development levy extended to 12 years. Authorization of formation of solid waste disposal districts and cultural arts, stadium and convention districts -- both with limited authority.
1983 Elimination of business inventories from property tax and assessment rolls, effective in 1983 for 1984 collections. Compensation (1984 through 1987) for districts with large inventory values.
1984 Legal requirements for payment of penalties and interest on delinquent taxes relaxed. Interest and penalties may now be paid on "first half" taxes without affecting amount and due date of "second half" payments. Exemption granted to non-profit cultural or art education programs. Senior citizen exemption qualifications revised: households with $15,000 annual income or less exempt for all excess levies. Those with incomes of $12,000 or less exempt from all property taxes. Current use assessment for conservation easements. Qualification requirements for property tax deferral made the same as for senior citizen/disabled persons tax exemption.
1985 Senior Citizen Exemption Qualification Revised: Effective 1985 tax roll. Qualified taxpayers with annual income of $15,000 or less exempt from all excess levies. In addition, those with annual income of $9,001 to $12,000 exempt from regular tax levies on the greater of $20,000 or 30 percent of assessed value up to $40,000. If income is $9,000 or less, the greater of $25,000 or 50 percent of valuation is exempt from regular property tax. Valuation standards for open space lands under current use assessment to be established by counties. Fire district and emergency medical services revised. Provision made for special valuation of eligible historic property. Benefit rating system authorized.
1986 A limited waiver of the 106 percent levy limitation may be placed before the voters. Levies for school capital purposes may be made for up to 6 years with voter approval.
1987 Senior Citizen Exemption Qualification Revised: Effective 1989 tax roll. Qualified taxpayers with annual income of $18,000 or less exempt from all excess levies. Those with an annual income of $12,001 to $14,000 are exempt from regular levies on the greater of $24,000 or 30 percent of assessed value up to $40,000. If income is $12,000 or less, the greater of $28,000 or 50 percent of valuation is exempt from regular levies. Special M&O school levy limit raised from 10 percent to 20 percent of budget; equalization procedure established. interest rates on property tax refunds increased.
1988 The head of household exemption for personal property was increased from $300 to $3,000 by the voters. Property tax exemptions were delayed until the year following submittal of the application. The state levy is protected from prorationing because it is excluded from the aggregate maximum. A new class of taxing districts, denoted "senior" districts is created. The combined maximum for local senior and junior districts is set at $5.55. A formula is provided for prorations. Annexations of fire districts of contiguous territory located in other counties is authorized. The minimum amount of property tax due in order to split payments and pay the second half of October 31st increased from $10 to $30. An administrative revision specifies that levies must be set by November 30th.
1989 Homes for the Aged Property Tax Exemption: Total exemption is provided federally subsidized housing and nonprofit homes at least half occupied by persons eligible for the senior citizens exemption (to impact taxes due in 1991). Levies for school maintenance and operations limited to 20 percent of the district's budget for basic education minus "levy reduction funds". Voter approval overrides the 106 percent growth limitation limited to nine year duration if the purpose is to redeem outstanding bonds.
1990 Increase in aggregate local property tax levy rates from $5.55 to $5.90 per $1,000 or assessed valuation to relieve prorationing among junior tax districts and to increase the capacity of the county levy. Public hospitals and metropolitan park districts are allowed to use special levy authority approved by voters providing that such levies do not impact the 1 percent limit.
1991 Senior Citizen Exemption Qualifications Revised: Taxpayers with incomes below $26,000 are eligible for relief from all special levies. Those with incomes of $15,000 or less also receive a value exemption of the greater of $34,000 or 50 percent of their home value. Those with incomes between $15,001 and $18,000 receive a value exemption of the greater of $30,000 or 30 percent of their home value not to exceed $50,000. The maximum income level for eligibility in the senior citizen deferral program changed from $18,000 to $30,000. The age for eligibility was also changed. Homeowners must be 61 on December 31 of the application year.
1992 Conservation districts given the authority to levy special assessments for a period of up to 10 years without the approval of the county legislative authority. The property tax exemption for nonprofit homes for the aging is amended to increase the maximum income level for eligibility from $18,000 to $22,000.
1993 A property tax exemption was given to organizations (such as United Way) that distribute gifts, donations, or grants to at least five other nonprofit organizations. Travel trailers that are permanently fixed subject to property tax. The Department of Revenue is required to list, bill, and collect taxes on certain commercial vessels. Senior citizens with property tax exemptions are allowed to rent their residence for the purpose of paying their nursing home or hospital costs while so confined.
1995 Authorization was given for a public housing levy of up to 50 cents for up to 10 years by citizens, towns, or counties for building or maintaining affordable housing. Eligibility requirements for nonprofit homes for the aging receiving exemptions amended including deleting the two unit exemption for each unit of eligibility. Amendments to restrictions on the use of public assembly halls and veteran's organizations) properties while receiving a property tax exemption, fundraising is allowed by nonprofit organizations, income-producing activities of other persons is allowed up to a maximum of three days per year. The state property tax levy was reduced by 4.7187 percent for taxes collected in the 1996 tax year only. The property valuations of qualified senior citizens and disabled persons are frozen as of January 1, 1995. Income limits and allowable deductions were changed. The residential deferral program was expanded and qualifications modified. Property tax exemptions for certain nonprofit organizations were expanded. An exemption was granted for new housing construction, conversion and rehabilitation improvements of certain Multi-Unit Housing. Land used for cultivation of short rotation hardwood trees, including but not limited to cottonwoods, can be classified as agricultural land. Land shall not be removed from forest land classification if a government agency, organization or recipient has demonstrated its intent in writing or other official action to acquire a property interest in classified forest land by means of an exempt transaction.
1997 A major reduction in property taxes was implemented via Referendum 47, which contained three separate provisions: 1. reduction in the 106 percent limit on annual increases in regular levies to the rate of inflation;
2. limitation on the rate of annual growth and assessed values (ruled unconstitutional in 1998) ;
3. permanent incorporation of the 4.7187 percent reduction in the state tax rate.
1997 The voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing school M&O levies for up to a four-year period. The Legislature also increase the income limits for the senior citizen exemptions.

A comprehensive property tax limitation planned, Initiative 722, was approved by the voters in November 2000. This proposal had five major elements:

1. rollback of all tax increases adopted during the second half of 1999;
2. exemption of motor vehicles from property tax;
3. repeal of the ability of local taxing districts to "stockpile" levy capacity;
4. limitation of increases in assessed value for individual parcels to 2 percent per year;
5. levy increases for taxing districts limited to 2 percent annually.
>The entire initiative was ruled to be unconstitutional.

2001 At the November, 2001 election the voters were again presented with a property tax limitation proposal, which they approved. Initiative 747 further reduces the degree to which taxing district revenues may increase from year to year. Previously, annual increases in regular property tax revenues were limited to the growth rate in inflation (it's currently slightly more than 2 percent), unless the voters have approved a higher rate of up to 6 percent. Initiative 747 mandates that the annual increase in regular property tax revenues will be a maximum of 1 percent (or at the rate of inflation, if lower).
2014 In March 2014, the Washington State Department of Revenue issued a Property Tax Advisory resulting from a 2013 decision from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the Great Wolf Lodge in Thurston County. The court ruled that privately owned improvements located on leased, tribal trust land are exempt from state and local property tax. In Skagit County that caused removal from the tax rolls of approximately 942 building only tax parcels in the Shelter Bay and Pull and Be Damned area of the Swinomish Reservation.
2019 The legislature passed ESSB 5160, which changed the income thresholds to qualify for the Senior Citizen and Disabled exemption based on percentage of the median household income of each county. The income levels will automatically adjust every five years with updates to the median household income per county as reported by the Office of Financial Management.



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