(The Center Square) – A backlog of property tax exemptions for seniors has led King County Assessor John Wilson’s office to request additional staff, but the county executive’s budget does not does not allocate funds for this purpose.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said he has received hundreds of general fund requests from county departments for his proposed budget.
The proposed budget indicates that income limitations imposed by Washington State have prevented most of these requests from being funded.
Chase Gallagher of the Office of the Executive further explained that the limitations relate to the types of revenue sources available to the county and the 1% limit on property taxes.
“The state determines the sources of revenue available to counties and has limited them to property and sales taxes,” Gallagher told The Center Square in an email. “In contrast, the state itself and cities are permitted to impose property taxes, sales taxes, utility taxes, and a wide range of business taxes.”
Gallagher added that King County’s general fund is heavily dependent on property tax, which is expected to account for more than 57% of general fund net revenue in 2023-24.
In 2001, voters in Washington passed an initiative to limit the annual growth of property tax revenues for most governments to 1% per year. It was adopted statewide but did not receive a majority in King County.
The initiative was rejected by the Washington Supreme Court, but the legislature reinstated the limitation. Efforts to change the boundary over the past 20 years have been unsuccessful.
The basic qualifications for property tax exemptions are that applicants must be over the age of 61, be disabled, or be a veteran with a total disability rating of at least 80%.
Junior Torres, a realtor in King County previously said The Center Square that he had a client in southeast King County who made less than $60,000 but still owed about $16,000 in taxes because she failed to meet the tax exemption rate for old people.
“So if [a senior citizen] earns $60,000 in Social Security or pension income and they get a $20,000 tax bill, which leaves them with $40,000 to live on,” Torres said in an email. “So what should these people do?” They have to sell their $2 million house… and they have to downsize.
Seattle has the second highest levy rate in King County at $2.16 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. SeaTac has the highest at $2.50. Redfin reported that the average median home value in Seattle was $840,000 in August.
Other requests for funding that were not granted in Constantine’s proposal included: $13 million to replace the county sheriff’s office rescue helicopter; $3 million to expand the regional peacekeeping program to other places affected by armed violence; The Department of Local Services requested additional staff to update King County codes; and the Facilities Management Division has requested additional funds for building maintenance, particularly for prisons and courthouses.
The King County Assessor’s Office acknowledged receipt but did not respond to a request for comment.