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County property tax rates decline

In his eight years as Island County Assessor, Tom Baenen has never seen property tax rates decline. Until this year.

The 2002 tax rates he announced this week are lower than those the year before. Most property owners will be receiving their statements in the mail this week, said Treasurer Maxine Sauter.

What does the reduced tax rate mean to the average property owner?

"On the average, they'll pay less," Baenen said Tuesday. However, he emphasized the word "average," and pointed out that some property owners will still see their taxes increase, especially if their property's valuation went up significantly.

"If there's no change in value, there's a decrease in taxes," Baenen said. Taking all properties into account, however, the lower valuations reduced taxes, he said. The average valuation increase was about 7.5 percent, he said.

Baenen attributed the tax rate decline to Initiative 747, which voters approved last November. Each taxing district can raise its tax rate by no more than 1 percent without a vote of the people.

Baenen said many voters thought I-747 would limit their own property taxes to a 1 percent increase, but that is not the case. Individual properties vary due to valuation changes.

Nevertheless, that fact that many people will be paying less in property taxes this year than last is a bit historic.

"It's the first time I'm aware of that tax rates are dropping," Baenen said.

He added that Island County has always had either the lowest or second lowest tax rate among the state's 39 counties.

The largest hunk of property taxes goes to state schools, which Baenen used as an example to demonstrate the impact of I-747. Last year the rate was $3.19 per thousand, while this year it is $2.07, because the Legislature could increase its rate by only by 1 percent. New construction and higher valuations increased state revenue to near the allowable limit.

"They always used to take 6 percent," Baenen said.

The same effect from I-747 was felt everywhere, from local school district taxes to cities and even tiny cemetery districts.

"It cut everybody down," Baenen said.

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