School district wants voters to know who’s responsible for biggest tax increase

By Oliver Lazenby

Property taxes for education just spiked, but the Blaine school district isn’t the main culprit.

That’s the message district officials are hoping to spread in the weeks before the April 24 special election, when voters will decide on the school district’s proposed $12 million, six-year capital projects and technology levy that will go into effect in 2019.

Property tax bills went up 11.8-13 percent this year, depending on if you live in Blaine, Birch Bay or Point Roberts. While some local taxes did go up, the biggest change was in state education taxes.

The amount of money the state collects for schools from Whatcom County property owners jumped from $2.23 to $3.20 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2018, a $242.50 annual increase for a home valued at $250,000.

State lawmakers passed the tax increase in 2017 to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which found that the state wasn’t fully funding education. When the state disperses that money, it will go toward paying educators’ salaries, not toward fixing roofs, parking lots or grandstands – all things the Blaine school district would do with a new levy.

Taxes for the Blaine school district did jump 30 cents to $2.80 per $1,000 in 2018, a bigger increase than any other local tax. A BP Cherry Point tax settlement caused that jump. BP paid a lump sum of more than $4.6 million in back taxes to the county in 2017 after the two entities settled a property value dispute. That payment temporarily lowered everyone else’s share of the district’s M&O levy by 20 cents and construction bonds by 10 cents in 2017.

The school-related tax spike is inconvenient for the Blaine school district’s effort to persuade voters to pass a new tax.

“People who have seen their tax bill for 2018 are concerned about what a technology and capital levy will mean for their tax bill next year,” said district superintendent Ron Spanjer. “We would reinforce that we don’t control the state tax and unfortunately it doesn’t pay for these projects.”

The district’s capital projects and technology levy would pay for projects throughout the district including a new grandstand at the high school and for purchasing property in Birch Bay for a future primary school. For more on what the levy would pay for, see last week’s issue of The Northern Light online.

The levy’s property tax impact

The Blaine school district has worked to keep the burden on taxpayers at a relatively constant level, Spanjer said. If the levy passes, it will tax property owners an extra 51 cents per $1,000 in value for six years, starting in 2019. However, the district’s maintenance and operations levy will also drop by 46 cents at the same time.

That means district property owners will see a total rise in 5 cents per $1,000 in assessed value if the levy passes, or $12.50 annually for a house valued at $250,000.

If the levy doesn’t pass, property taxes related to the Blaine school district would drop 46 cents per $1,000 in assessed value.

Last minute bill gives relief

The amount that taxpayers pay the state for education – the biggest factor in this year’s property tax hike – could drop around 30 cents per $1,000 in value next year due to a bill that state legislators passed on the last day of the session.

The bill is a one-time reduction for 2019. It’s unclear how much the state will collect for education after 2019.

How does Blaine compare?

Of the seven school districts in the county, Blaine collects the least from local taxpayers, according to the Whatcom County Assessor’s Office. Blaine School District voters this year pay $2.80 per $1,000. Here’s how that compares to other districts:

Lynden – $3.83

Mount Baker – $4.26

Ferndale – $4.32

Bellingham – $4.55

Meridian – $4.68

Nooksack Valley – $5.86.

All rates are per $1,000 of assessed home value.

  Correction: As published, this story incorrectly stated that a tax increase of 5 cents per $1,000 in assessed value would raise the annual tax bill for a house valued at $250,000 by $125. The correct annual figure is $12.50.


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