Property tax bill prompts uproar

Port Angeles School District levy approved in 2020

PORT ANGELES — Sue Peterson gasped Tuesday when she received her annual property tax bill in the mail.

It showed a $1,788 increase for 2021 on her $540,000 home and property east of Port Angeles.

The hike is fueled by a $2.58-per-$1,000 increase for a five-year capital levy approved by Port Angeles School District voters in February 2020 for collection beginning this year. It will raise $10.1 million in 2021 and $52.6 million by 2025.

“I kind of just took a deep breath and was like, ‘Oh, my god,’ ” the Port Angeles School District bus driver said.

“That’s including the levy and the [Shore Aquatic Center] pool and several other things I have to pay for, but oh, my gosh, that’s crazy to me.

“I’ve already called a Realtor. I’ve got to be ready to sell.”

The Clallam County Treasurer’s Office was flooded with nearly 100 calls this week by Port Angeles-area taxpayers shocked at what they, too, found in their mailboxes, Treasurer Teresa Marchi said Thursday.

Voters approved the hike by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent to pay for a new Stevens Middle School and other capital improvements as part of a 30-year district development plan that will be subject to voter approval again in 2025.

The treasurer’s office mailed about 25,500 tax statements to property owners, some of whom owned multiple parcels, and emailed 11,300 tax statements to mortgage companies reflecting individual parcels.

A breakdown of the number of property owners in Clallam County was not available Thursday.

During the past week, 167 commenters expressed their feelings on the Facebook page The Real Port Angeles, responding to a Feb. 10 link to Clallam County’s property search page at clallam.net.

The page lists property assessments, levy amounts and taxes due.

“I just went and looked and omg!! Ours went up 1,500.85!!,” one commenter said.

“This may motivate us to dump some rentals,” said another.

“They don’t care about us at all,” said a third. “Everything seems to fall on the shoulders of home owners.”

Port Angeles School Superintendent Marty Brewer said his property taxes went up, too, by $1,700.

His reaction when he opened up his tax statement?

“It’s worth every penny,” he said Thursday.

“It’s investing in our community.”

The county assessor’s office assesses the property and compiles the tax amounts. The Treasurer’s Office sends out the bills and collects the taxes.

Marchi’s staff received about 50 calls Tuesday and Wednesday “asking about the increase and why it went up so much,” Marchi said.

Forty-seven callers had left messages at her office Monday, a federal holiday.

Assessor Pam Rushton said she’s received a few calls.

School Board President Sarah Methner has seen the Facebook posts.

“There seems to be sort of a vocal minority that is unhappy,” Methner said, pointing to the voter approval.

“I get that people are unhappy when their tax bills go up.

“We never hid that taxes were going to go up.

“Unfortunately, that’s the way our state system is set up. The burden falls to the local district to build new buildings, and ours are falling down, and it was time, and obviously our constituency knew it was time, and they voted for it,” Methner said.

“I know things are tough right now. They just are.”

The owner of a $250,000 home in Port Angeles saw their taxes overall go up $541, to $2,923, when the school district levy is included, Marchi said.

The owner of a $250,000 home in the school district paid $376 in to support district operations in 2020 and will pay $1,005 in 2021 for the capital levy and an operations levy that is now referred to as an enrichment levy.

“All the other levies, the library, port and city, all those levies went down a tad bit across the board,” she said.

Sequim property taxes went down.

There, taxes on a $250,000 house were $2,619 in 2020 and $2,345 in 2021, Marchi said, due mostly to a school district bond that expired.

Property owners who live in Fire District 2, which borders Port Angeles and includes many school district taxpayers, “got a double whammy,” Rushton said.

The fire district levy increased from 87 cents to $1.36 per $1,000 of valuation, with taxpayer bills on a $250,000 home there increasing overall from $2,320 to $2,990.

The fire district valuation increased from $1.3 billion in 2019 to $1.4 billion in 2020, by 8 percent.

Rushton said one-sixth of the county is physically inspected every year for valuation purposes and new construction.

In 2020 for 2021 taxes, property from Joyce west through the West End was reviewed in person.

This year, for 2022 taxes, her staff will visit the east side of Sequim to the county line at Blyn.

Rushton said Clallam County overall valuation increased by 8 percent, from $9.8 billion in 2020 to $10.6 billion in 2021.

Rushton said the school district’s overall property valuation was $3.6 billion in 2019 for 2020 taxes and $3.9 billion in 2020 for 2021 taxes, another 8 percent increase.

Brewer said the results of levy passage have already been realized through the construction of safety vestibules at elementary schools. A decision is pending later this year on utilizing playing fields at the former Monroe Elementary School site.

And by mid-2022, a request-for-qualifications outreach process will begin in search of an architect to design the new Stevens Middle School.

Another vote on a five-year funding measure at the same $2.50-$2.75 rate will occur in 2025. That rate will stick for the next 29 years, as long as voters keep approving it every five years.

“We’ve got to stay visible from a school district perspective,” Brewer said, showing taxpayers “their dollars have been invested wisely.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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