From the City of Kent in a press release dated October 19, 2011 (a letter to the editor of the Kent Reporter):
Much has been said, written, implied, and rumored about the collection and use of property taxes by the city. We’d like to set the record straight, not only about those taxes, but to right some false statements made by Mr. Berrios in his letter to the editor printed in the October 7 edition of the Kent Reporter.
In 2010, voters approved the formation of the Regional Fire Authority (RFA). That measure passed with over 70% of the vote. By approving the RFA, voters approved two major revenue changes that appear on your property tax bill 1) a transfer of $1.00 per thousand of assessed value from the city to the RFA and 2) the collection of a new revenue charge called a Fire Benefit Charge (FBC). Both of these changes were in the voters pamphlet and part of the public outreach campaign prior to the vote.
The Truth about Property Taxes
Property taxes are collected by King County and are used to pay for a variety of organizations and services including state and local schools, county services, city services, the Port of Seattle, ferry services, King County Library System, emergency medical services, and Valley Medical Center.
Only a small portion of the property tax we pay comes to our city – 11.2% of the total to be exact.
The property tax revenues our city receives have always been deposited into the General Fund and used to pay for general government services including public safety, parks, streets and other services. They were never transferred from another fund as alleged. Property owners should note that property taxes only cover 25% of the total cost to provide the previously mentioned services.
The remaining costs are covered using sales and utility tax revenues, building revenues and permit fees, which also, have always been deposited into the General Fund. Unfortunately, these revenue sources have declined by $8.4 million since the recession began.
It is clear there is a mistaken assumption that before voters approved the RFA, the Fire Department was funded solely by property taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth. If this assertion were true – if the entire city’s portion of property taxes received were dedicated to public safety – those dollars wouldn’t even cover half of the total cost to provide those services. In fact, in 2010, before the RFA, only $8.9 million dollars of property tax money was used to pay for the fire department. The remaining $15.2 million dollars in their budget came from other revenue sources.
In 2010, the city received $2.36 per $1,000 in assessed valuation to pay for all of the general government services referenced previously. When the RFA was formed, the city gave up $1.00 of the $2.36 previously received, leaving $1.36 per $1,000 assessed valuation to pay for those previously referenced services. That $1.00 dollar equated to a reduction of $11.7 million in property taxes that used to go into the city’s General Fund, which is now collected by the RFA. That is well over the $8.9 million in property taxes that partially funded the fire department in 2010.
This year, due to fluctuation in property values, the county, not the city, set the rate at $1.48 per $1,000 in assessed valuation. This is just the city’s portion of the total property tax bill.
The letter to the editor wrongly asserts that “additional taxes were collected without voter approval.” The $1.00 redistribution from the city to the RFA is a “wash” to taxpayers. The $1.48 still received by the city in property taxes was not “stolen”, “kept” or “taken” as the author claims. That money was, and has always been received and deposited into the city’s General Fund to provide general government services…not to solely pay for the Fire Department. Remember, the city gave up $1.00 of its total property tax receipts. The RFA now receives that $1.00 dollar. At a minimum this was not an “excess collection,” and to say it was “unethical” is unconscionable.
This was never a property tax reduction discussion; it was about a redistribution of $1.00 from the city to the RFA, pending voter approval. Again, voters approved the plan to redistribute the $1.00 from the city, to the RFA by more than 70%.
About the Fire Benefit Charge
Well why is it if the city used to get $2.36 and now gets $1.48 that my property taxes have gone up? A review of one’s property tax bill will show voter approved tax increases and charges to pay for services they deem valuable.
For instance, voters approved bonds, levies and charges to support the Kent School District, King County Library System and the Regional Fire Authority.
An additional voter approved charge appearing on tax statements is the new Fire Benefit Charge (FBC). This charge is over and above what was previously billed and collected. To be clear, the FBC is a charge, not a tax and goes directly to the RFA. While we agree it’s confusing that this charge is included in King County’s property tax bills, it is not a tax. That’s why it falls under the “Other charges” category just as the Noxious Weed and Conservation charges do. There is no double taxation here. Voters agreed to transfer $1.00 from the city’s total property tax collection to the RFA. Voters also agreed to be assessed a FBC.
The fact the measure to approve the RFA, including its FBC required a 60% voter majority signaled more money out of our pockets.
Mr. Berrios is asking the city to reduce its portion of property taxes collected by $4.9 million. For the owner of a $300,000 home, that would equate to $114 per year. It would not reduce the $1.00 received by the RFA, or the Fire Benefit Charge, also received by the RFA.
That $114 reduction would come at cost; a cost in police services, parks, street maintenance and other services vital to the community.
Declining revenues since the recession began have forced reductions in every area of the city budget. Since 2009, 90 employee positions have either been eliminated or left vacant and programs have been cut.
The suggested $4.9 million cut translates to between 60 and 70 additional employees losing their jobs, causing even further reductions and elimination of programs.
We understand the public is typically eager to cut government spending, and government employees for that matter. At the same time, the public insists on a strong police force, streets without pot holes, sidewalks in good repair, snow removal, parks and teen programs, neighborhood councils and even the lunch program at the Senior Center. The city employees are the people patrolling the streets, repairing streets and sidewalks and removing the snow. These programs don’t exist without funding, or the employees that provide the services.
The council is always looking for feedback on what you would like to see, or not see in the budget. The next public hearing on the 2012 budget is set for Tuesday, November 15, 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall and we encourage you to come with ideas and suggestions on how to move this city in the right direction.
Jamie Perry, Council President
Elizabeth Albertson, Councilmember
Deborah Ranniger, Councilmember
Debbie Raplee, Councilmember