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County tax increase leads state

Over the past year, Island County residents have seen a property tax increase of 5.8 percent, which is higher than any of the other 38 counties in the state.

Most Washington counties raised their property taxes 1 percent -- an increase that jibes with Initiative 747 which voters approved in 2001, according to information from the Washington Policy Center, which describes itself as a nonpartisan, free-market think tank based in Seattle.

Island County Assessor Tom Baenen said the county needed the higher property tax increase to offset money lost from revenue sources dried up by statewide initiatives.

Island County made the 5.8 percent property tax hike by tapping into previously unused taxing capacity and through the 1 percent tax increase available under I-747.

Baenen added that this year's increase uses the last of the previously unused "banked" tax increase.

While Baenen said the policy center's numbers are correct in terms of the overall tax rate, he pointed out that Island County still has the second lowest property tax rate in the state.

"The citizens of Island County are not suffering any tax gouging," Baenen said.

Only San Juan County's rate of $7.32 per $1,000 assessed value on property is lower than Island County's rate of $9.89 per $1,000, according to Baenen.

The Washington Policy Institute noted that 28 of the state's 39 counties hiked property tax rates by 1 percent this year and five counties, Kittitas, Spokane, Wahkiakum, Whatcom and Whitman, didn't make any increase this year.

There are other counties that made a property tax increase greater than 1 percent this year, but those were still lower than Island County's. Benton County raised property taxes by 2 percent and Garfield County raised taxes by 1.8 percent.

The limits on tax increases stems from I-747, which was approved by voters in 2001. Under the initiative, property tax increases are generally limited to 1 percent. Local officials who want more have hold special elections to get voter approval.

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