For Bellevue residents still absorbing the impact of higher property tax bills, a slate of new levies is likely to cause some questions. As one of the most expensive places to live in Washington, Bellevue residents naturally have some of the highest property tax bills as well. Many, then, are still left wondering why they’re paying more than last year and how three upcoming Bellevue School District levies will impact their wallets in the future if they pass. And they need answers fast. Election day is Feb. 13. Fortunately, we have answers.
How much is the school district asking for? If approved by voters, the Enrichment Levy will collect $304 million over four years between 2019 and 2022. This money will allow the Bellevue School District to pay for educational programs and services, including special education, the arts, STEM programming, athletics and extra-curricular activities. How much will all that education cost you? Well, property owners would be taxed at an estimated 99 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation each year, compared to the $1.06 rate that is collect under the expiring levy that this one would be replacing. So, if you are a homeowner with a house assessed at $750,000, this particular levy will come to $742.50 a year. But, remember, that is not all new tax. It’s replacing a comparable expiring tax.
The Capital and Technology Levy is also a replacement levy and would tax property owners an estimated 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2019 and 2020 and 53 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation in 2021 and 2022. The district would collect $37 million in 2019, $40 million in 2020, $42 million in 2021 and $44 million in 2022. The total amount collected over four years would be $163 million. The Capital and Technology Levy pays for building improvements, expansion, renovation, technology infrastructure and laptops for 11,752 middle and high school students.
The last levy, which hasn’t been on the ballot since 1998, is a one-year, $8 million School Bus Levy. In 2018, property owners would be taxed 12 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The district would collect the funds in 2019. The school bus levy would replace old buses and pay for additional buses to transport students to school.
Wait, how do property taxes work in Washington? Property taxes are levied from multiple entities, which include the state, counties, cities, school districts, libraries, fire districts and more. By Washington law, school districts must ask voters to approve levies every four-to-five years. Even if the levy is an extension of the same levy passed five years ago and is replacing the expired levy, it still must be passed by voters. That, however, is not true in many other states.
What happens if the valuation on my home goes up? Your tax bill would stay the same and the rate would go down. School districts ask voters to approve an amount to be collected, not a tax rate. For example, the Enrichment Levy, if approved, would collect $68 million in 2019, which is about 99 cents per $1,000 based on total assessed valuation. Changes in assessed value for the district would result in the actual tax rate being lower than the estimated $0.99.
“We collect the same amount no matter what assessed valuation does,” said Bellevue School District Deputy Superintendent of Financial Services and Operations Melissa deVita. “The rates get adjusted.”
Want a real-life example? In the 2014 election, the district estimated the total local school tax rate for 2018 would be $3.93 per $1,000 of assessed value. However, assessed values for the district increased at a faster than anticipated rate, so the actual tax rate in 2018 is $2.80.
Who pays up? If approved, homeowners living within the Bellevue School District boundaries would pay. So, if a homeowner lives in the city of Redmond but their home is located within the Bellevue School District, that homeowner would pay the Bellevue School District levy, not the Lake Washington School District levy. Same with Medina, Clyde Hill or any other city that is within the school district boundaries. Future property owners of new construction would also pay a portion of taxes levied.
“There’s a lot of planned building in the BelRed corridor, whether it’s apartments or multi-family housing,” deVita said. “When those come on board, the value of that property will be higher than it is today and those property owners will pay their share.”
My property taxes already increased a lot this year. Isn’t that enough? It’s true. Taxes went up this year. DeVita explained that for a homeowner with a house in the Bellevue School District and city of Bellevue, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is increasing by a net of 47 cents due to the new state levy to fund schools. That brings the 2018 property tax rate to $9.19 per $1,000. Last year, it was $8.72 per $1,000. This includes the state school tax, the RST tax, flood tax, emergency management systems tax, a library tax, county taxes, the current local school district levies and a bunch of others. But deVita argues that’s not where Bellevue residents are getting hit. They’re getting hit because of their home’s drastic increase in assessed value.
DeVita picked a random home that increased in assessed value over the the past year. The home she picked was valued at $628,000 in 2017 and $716,000 in 2018.
“Its property taxes are going from $5,476 in 2017 to $6,523 in 2018,” she said. “That’s an $1,100 increase, but only $295 is caused by the increase in tax rate. The vast majority of it is caused by an increase in assessed value.”
DeVita said she ran the numbers on 25 homes and home after home had at least 60 percent of its increase in property tax driven by assessed valuation, not property tax increase.
While it’s true the state will collect $55.5 million more in taxes from Bellevue School District residents for basic education, deVita said the district will only get $28.7 million of that back — an approximate 52 percent return. The rest goes to other school districts throughout the state.
But the funds the district does receive from the state can’t just be spent however the district wants. The state dictates where the majority of money goes and how it will be spent, including Cost of Living Adjustments for school district staff, benefits and class size compliance. That doesn’t include funding for educational programs and services like special education, capital and technology improvements or school buses, which is exactly what residents in the Bellevue School District will be voting on on Feb. 13.
For more information on the school district’s levies, visit www.kingcounty.gov/elections.