A jump in assessments doesn’t always result in the same tax increase


Did your property assessment take a big jump for 2023? Are you worried that your property taxes will go up a similar amount? Don’t worry, increases in property assessments and property taxes rarely go hand in hand. How so?

The various government agency taxes that make up your tax bill are typically budget-based tax levies that are limited to a one-percent increase annually. 

For instance, in 2021, the entire valuation of the Blaine school district (which encompasses Blaine, Birch Bay and Point Roberts) was $5.03 billion and the Blaine school district tax levy was $11,515,364. The mill rate, or cost per $1,000 of assessed value was 2.29. A house worth $100,000 would have paid $228.99. In 2022, the assessed value of the district rose to $5.38 billion an increase of 7.15 percent. Meanwhile, the school district levy increased to $11,853,358 resulting in a reduced mill rate of 2.19. If the value of that $100,000 house increased at the same rate as the school district, the taxes owed would have increased by $6.71, an increase of 2.9 percent. 

An individual’s property taxes are limited by the Washington state constitution to one percent of market value ($10 per $1,000). Voter-approved special levies, such as special levies for schools or this year’s proposed EMS levy, are in addition to the constitutionally mandated amount.

In 2022, the levy rates calculated for individual taxing districts generally decreased as a result of higher assessed values. However, levy rates did increase for voter-approved measures. The average levy rate for 2021 taxes was 10.01 per thousand dollars of assessed value, while the average levy rate for 2022 taxes decreased to 9.15.

The total taxable assessed value in Whatcom County increased from $38.33 billion to $43.16 billion for 2022 taxes. Property taxes collected in 2022 by all taxing districts in Whatcom County increased overall 4.8 percent over 2021. Property taxes totaled $404,471,919 in 2022, up $18.4 million over 2020’s $386,098,169 that was levied for all taxing districts.

Each year, the county physically assesses a sixth of the properties in the county. 

In 2022, Blaine, Birch Bay and Point Roberts were physically assessed. In 2023, Lynden and the surrounding area will see county assessor vehicles. Because the county cannot physically assess the entire county each year, it uses what is called a mass appraisal method that analyses properties grouped by similar market influences and characteristics. A three-bedroom home in good condition in Lynden would be appraised similarly to a similar home in a similar neighborhood in Blaine. Both homes would receive a similar adjustment in their assessments.

An annual mass appraisal revaluation generally results in greater uniformity and consistency in property tax assessments and a more equal distribution of property taxes within the taxing jurisdiction. This method has been in effect since January 1, 2014, and was the result of a law enacted by the state legislature. An individual property valuation is typically determined by looking at recent sales of similar properties. Mass appraisals do the same thing but look at groups of properties rather than individual properties. 

The vast majority of our county taxes go to the state (29.99 percent), county (7.95 percent), school districts (32.4 percent), Port of Bellingham (1.93 percent) and EMS districts. Note: School district percentage is a combination of all county school districts and is not specific to the Blaine school district.

What could drive your taxes up? 

For one, the approved county EMS levy would reauthorize a levy rate of $0.29 per $1,000 of assessed property. Voters authorized this levy rate in 2016 for six years; by last year, the levy rate had declined to $0.22 per $1,000. Secondly, you may own the kind of property that saw an above-average rise in market value in the last year; if so, both your assessed value and your taxes will rise higher than.

In any event, you won’t have to wait long to find out. Typically, property tax statements are mailed out during the third week of February.

(Ed note: For clarity, mill rates and total valuations have been rounded to two decimal places.)


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