Roads and Other Levies Complicate Property Tax Questions

The current system disproportionately burdens homeowners in unincorporated King County.

  • Wednesday, June 23, 2021 7:36pm
  • Opinion

Phil Clapham wrote in “Reason to Worry As County Taxes Climb Higher” (June 3): “One would think that, if the county had a set budget that it decided it needed to raise, and that didn’t change between consecutive years, then the tax rate should actually go down as assessment values go up.”

This is exactly how it works in Washington. Washington is one of two states in the union that uses a budget-based (also known as levy-based) property tax system.

By Nov. 30 each year, every taxing jurisdiction must certify to the county assessor their budget. The assessor’s office then divides this by the total taxable value of all the property in that jurisdiction to create a levy rate per $1,000 of value. The levy rates of all the jurisdictions a given property is in are then added together and used to calculate its tax.

On Vashon, our largest taxing jurisdiction is the state school fund levies. This is followed by the county level levies, which include ones like Best Start for Kids, King County Parks and the general budget.

Then we have levies like the new hospital district and Vashon Island Park and Recreation. There are smaller taxing jurisdictions like Water District 19 but this year they do not have a levy, so all property on Vashon and Maury Island is taxed at the same levy rate.

The most significant event in property tax in Washington recently was the levy swap as a solution to the McCleary Decision. The teachers union, the WEA, brought a lawsuit in which the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Washington State had to fully fund K-12 education. The legislature’s solution was the levy swap which limited school districts’ levies while increasing the state school levy.

The effect of this was that areas with high assessed values paid significantly more into education, while lower-value areas paid less. Cleary, Vashon and most of King County is a higher value (Auburn, Federal Way, Highline and Kent had small decreases).

Another issue we face on Vashon is that in the entire road system in the physically very large, but relatively small population area that is unincorporated King County, only property tax from those areas funds it — while a recent study showed half of all trips on high-volume county roads come from cities or other counties.

This disproportionately burdens homeowners in unincorporated King County. For example, just the road levy rate we pay is higher than the city levy rate for all services (not just roads) for all but four of the forty cities and towns in King County. Twelve of those cities and towns charge less than half the road levy rate we are charged.

Phil Clapham hit the nail on the head with his comment that there is a disconnect between non-homeowners and voting for levy increases. When Sound Transit 3 was being debated, the Seattle Times had a calculator to show how much you would pay in increased taxes. The Times had to modify it — as too many renters were putting $0 as the value of their homes.

So, what can we do about it? Firstly, both homeowners and renters should think long and hard about each levy that is put on the ballot. The King County Assessor’s office has a useful tool online that will show the impact of each levy on the ballot for your home (part of the Localscape portal). Secondly, as it would take a change in state law to fix the roads issue, you should contact our state legislators and ask them to support a regional solution to the roads funding crisis.

William Shadbolt is a real estate investor that lives in Burton. He is the current Past President of the Rental Housing Association of Washington and Chair of the Partnership for Affordable Housing. He also serves on many boards, including Housing Connector that helps the homeless connect with landlords and provide support for them both. When not working, he enjoys truffle hunting with his two Italian truffle hunting dogs and boating/fishing on the Sound.

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

As Delta Dawns, Islanders Need To Renew Precautions

We know now what can happen when we follow the rules: life returns to a semblance of normality.

Reflections on a Sweet Strawberry Festival

The Festival was filled with our traditional events and activities, but all with a focus on Vashon.

Energy Consumption Globally, and Locally, Is Too High

We are not taking the climate crisis seriously.

Vote Yes for Best Starts for Kids

Funding from this initiative has already resulted in direct benefits for Vashon youth.

Everything Must Change. What are the New Rules?

What we really need is some concrete guidance, a “to do” list.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact
King County primary election candidates to watch | Roegner

With the Aug. 3 primary election, the public will narrow the field… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at
Massive reforestation effort needed in Washington and beyond | Brunell

Massive forest fires in the western parts of our country are not… Continue reading

Mukai Joins Mayoral Race, Hosts Day of Festival Fun

What says Strawberry Festival like the history of the strawberry on Vashon?

Here’s to Friendlier Fourths in the Future

There are people to see, and places to go, and good clean fun to be had.

Most Read