You opened your tax bill this year and were shocked at the increase, right? 2017 Snoqualmie Valley property tax bills jumped, with the total tax rate for a typical Snoqualmie home increasing from about 12% to about 13%. Combined with rising assessed values, it’s a recipe for increasing property taxes – to the tune of a 15% jump for my own home.
Ouch, but it was expected.
The main reason for the jump was voter approved levies. In 2015 the Snoqualmie Valley School District passed a $244 million capital bond to finally address school building and capacity needs. The district had not passed a capital construction bond since 2003 – so there was a lot growth to address. SVSD’s 20-year bond was estimated to add $1.29/1000 assessed property value. Also adding pressure this year were a couple of King County voter approved levies that added another .20/1000.
Property owners definitely saw a big property tax bill jump for 2017, but a similar large jump is not anticipated next year as the district’s comprehensive 2015 bond addressed longterm needs and no other large levies are currently on the ballot.
Bad Timing, Why ask Now Snoqualmie?
So why would the City of Snoqualmie pick now to ask voters for a levy lid lift? Mayor Matt Larson said because they need to if residents want emergency service levels to remain intact. For the past 15 years – since Tim Eyman’s Initiatve 747 passed that capped property tax increases at 1% over the prior year – the city has essentially been operating at a compounding loss of about 2%.
Larson said, “Eventually the loss catches up.”
Before Initiative 747, city councils were allowed to raise [their portion] of property taxes by 6% without voter approval. Most councils didn’t go this high, but legally they could. Larson explained that costs associated with running the city – like employee salaries, benefits and inflation – have risen by about 3% per year while state law capped raising the city’s portion of collected property taxes at 1%. That is, unless they ask voters to approve an additional increase in the form of a levy lid lift.
The mayor commented that even Eyman never meant for the initiative to put cities in a operating hole. Rather it was aimed at making cities more efficient before going to voters and explaining the additional needed funding. Larson said the City of Snoqualmie has known since the initiative’s passage, and after multiple years of running at a loss, that it would have to approach voters.
Why you ask? Because Larson said unfortunately the City of Snoqualmie doesn’t have a large sales tax base and suffers from retail leakage, with an estimated 73 cents every resident pays for goods and services spent outside the city in places like North Bend and Issaquah. Additionally, with the buildout of SnoqualmieRidge almost complete, sales and REET taxes associated with the master planned community won’t be available to help offset the loss created by the 1% cap on property taxes.
So why aren’t the additional taxes from new homes enough to fill the gap? According to Mayor Larson, those new homes pay for services associated with them and the people residing in them – like roads, police, fire, schools, etc. And once those new taxes hit the tax base pool, they can’t grow more than 1% per state law – at least not without voter approval.
In the past, the city has also had to use tax revenue to address its deficiencies that existed prior to Snoqualmie Ridge – like deteriorating infrastructure due to decades of flooding that had the small city on the brink of bankruptcy prior to 2000. The result was an severely understaffed city and underpaid employees, which Larson said has been addressed over the past 15 years.
During the same time period Snoqualmie’s population has exploded – from around 3,000 to now over 13,000. Interim Police Chief Schaffer said his department still has the same number of officers, though, and Snoqualmie service have increased 61%. The Snoqualmie Fire Department has added two new positions since 2001.
Mayor Larson said originally the city planned to ask voters for a levy lid lift in 2008, but when the recession hit they delayed it until 2012, which voters approved at 52%. That lid helped play catch up from for the previous decade and if that levy had been larger, this year’s ballot measure might not be needed, but Larson said they walked a fine line in 2012 of not wanting to make the lift too large and risk its passage.
2016 Tax Increase would Fund Fire, Police
The city says this 2016 proposed levy lid increase of .23/1000 assessed value would pay for one additional firefighter and two additional police officers. The additional cost for a home valued at $500,000 is estimated at $115/year or $10/month.
The additional funding would maintain the police department’s ‘No Call to Small’ goal of responding to every 911 call and the fire department’s service standard goal of three firefighters on duty 24 hours a day and available to respond to more than one fire or emergency medical call at a time If approved, the police department plans to add two detectives so that patrol officers can spend more time in community being what it calls proactive versus reactive, which Interim Police Chief Jim Schaffer says promotes community policing.
Questions have arisen in the community as to whether this additional tax funds would be dedicated to Snoqualmie policing, as the Snoqualmie Police Department also services North Bend. Mayor Larson said yes, and that the two police service areas are funded separately. North Bend tax dollars pay for North Bend officers and service and Snoqualmie tax dollars pay for Snoqualmie Officers and service. He did add, though, that in cases of serious emergencies in either city, all officers can respond, which is benefit to both cities.
Timing not Perfect, Funding still Needed says Mayor
So although the timing may be considered not optimal by many residents, the City of Snoqualmie says the property tax increase is needed to maintain appropriate emergency service levels. Mayor Larson commented there may never be a perfect time to ask, but that he hopes residents realize the portion of property taxes the city collects is just a small piece of the property tax pie, accounting for only about 20% of total property taxes. He said he feels that 20%, along with the 38% that go to local schools, have the most direct and biggest impact on residents and the community at large.
Hope for a less property tax dependent Future
The city does hope to become less property tax dependent in the near future. Larson said three upcoming development projects are predicted to help. The new Snoqualmie Ridge Plaza, anchored by Safeway and Bartell Drugs, is estimated to bring a half million dollars in yearly sales tax revenue by 2022. The Salish Lodge expansion and old Mill Site projects are also each expected to bring about $450,000 in yearly sales tax revenue during the same time period.
For more information about the City of Snoqualmie Proposition 1 Levy Lid Lift proposal, including video of a recent Town Hall Presentation, visit the Informational Page HERE.