Property taxes set; most property owners will pay less, but . . .

The total assessed value of taxable property in San Juan County increased 13.1 percent between 2007 and 2008 to about $7.976 billion, San Juan County Assessor Charles Zalmanek reported today in a press release.

The increase is identical to the increase during 2006 and lower than the jump in 2005, when the total taxable property value increased by 17 percent, Zalmanek reported.

The increase in total value does not translate directly into higher taxes, however, because the county can only increase revenue collected from existing property by 1 percent per year without voter approval.

Zalmanek noted that some of the 43 taxing entities in the county did not take their full allowable levy increase this year. Those include the Port of Orcas, San Juan and Orcas cemetery districts, and San Juan Island Emergency Medical Services. (Only 10.5 percent of the average property tax dollar is collected for the county government’s operating fund.)

To offset the higher values, the tax levy rate was reduced by amounts ranging from 3 percent in Friday Harbor to 17.4 percent on Orcas Island. Because roughly one-third of the properties in the county are re-assessed each year, two thirds of the properties in the county actually pay less tax each year than the previous year.

Residents of South San Juan Island – whose appraisals increased an average of 52 percent last year – will pay about $23 less in property taxes per $100,000 value. On Blakely Island, property taxes will drop by $54 per $100,000 value.

“But it also means that the one-third that is re-assessed gets a pretty good bump in their assessed value to catch up with three years of market activity," Zalmanek said. In recent years, that “bump” has averaged between 40 and 50 percent.

The area in 2008 included Orcas, Waldron, Crane, Obstruction and several other non-ferry served islands. Values in those areas increased an average of 41.5 percent. That means that despite the significant drop in the tax rate on Orcas, the higher values will produce average tax bill increases of 16 percent in those areas.

“We had a record number of people who appealed their assessments this year. A lot of them felt that values had dropped significantly since the national economic problems emerged,” Zalmanek said. “But state law requires us to base our calculations on what the property was worth on Jan. 1 of the current year and the problems had not had much of an effect on our market at that time.”

The assessor has set up a property tax calculator on the county Web site that property owners can use to calculate their 2009 property tax bill and compare it to last year’s bill. Visit

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