Despite swelling home prices, Pierce County property owners can raise a modest glass to their taxes this year, which will increase slightly following several years of sizable spikes.
Countywide, property taxes will increase 5.3 percent in 2022 compared to last year, raking in $1.76 billion.
More than 60 percent of property taxes in Pierce County — state and local — support public education. City and county governments plus roads account for 20 percent, and fire districts just shy of 11 percent. A smaller portion of funding supports the Port of Tacoma, Sound Transit and flood control, as well as conservation efforts.
The Assessor-Treasurer’s office will mail property owners and mortgage lenders the bills starting Feb. 15.
The largest jump landed in the Bethel and Franklin Pierce school districts, where the average single-family homeowner will pay an additional $450, up 11 percent from 2021.
The shortest jump of about $100 goes to Buckley, Steilacoom and Milton, with increases under 2 percent.
In nine cities, including the county’s three largest of Tacoma, Lakewood and Puyallup, the average homeowner will pay $200 to $300 more this year.
Assessor-Treasurer Mike Lonergan said in a press release that taxes had “settled down in most areas” in 2021, leading to “modest increases in most parts of Pierce County, even a decrease in one area.”
Though state law limits annual increases, voter-approved levies primarily to boost school funding and emergency services contribute to the more than 5 percent total average increase. Recent school levy votes in several districts won’t factor into taxes until 2023.
The system is leveling out from the ripple effect of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, as Lonergan noted in 2018. The high court ruled that the state of Washington was not fulfilling its constitutional duty to fund public schools. Legislators agreed, but the the new capped-levy system they eventually approved didn’t take effect until 2020.
As Lonergan predicted when discussing spikes in Pierce County property taxes for 2019, some areas, including Orting and Graham, saw minor drops last year.
The only beneficiary of lower taxes this year is, again, Orting, population 8,000, where property owners will see a decrease of $575 on average thanks to cuts to a school construction bond and changes in fire district tax rates. The assessor’s office cautioned that a portion of those savings would be replaced by a local fire benefit charge, which is calculated differently than property taxes.
In April 2021, 65 percent of voters approved new funding for Fire Protection District No. 18. Voters last year in five fire districts — Steilacoom, Key Peninsula, East Pierce, Ashford and Crystal Mountain — likewise renewed EMS levies or approved raising levy ceilings. In the case of the latter ski resort area, only three voters cast ballots.
The scorching housing market of course plays a role in the annual revaluation ritual.
Every area saw home values balloon last year, according to the Assessor-Treasurer’s office. Yet similar rates of change for homes in one city don’t necessarily translate to the same percentage of tax increase in another.
In Tacoma, for instance, the average single-family home valued at $368,000 in 2020 paid $4,600 in property taxes that year. That same home is now valued at $432,500 — 17.5 percent more — and the owner will pay $4,950 in taxes, a 7.23 percent jump.
On the other hand, Clover Park’s average home value increased at almost the same rate as Tacoma’s, but its taxes rose 5.2 percent — enough to bump homeowners there into the $5,000-plus range. Bethel and Steilacoom also reached that level this year.
Homeowners in five other districts — University Place, Fife, Sumner, Peninsula and White River — had already reached that level. In 2022, Sumner joined the $6,000 club with reigning members Gig Harbor and University Place.
Franklin Pierce, which takes the honors of having the highest property tax increase for 2022 at 11.99 percent, still holds the county’s lowest average home value at $386,000 — up a whopping 20 percent.
This story was originally published February 14, 2022 5:00 AM.