Property Taxes

Most Cowlitz County residents will see smaller property tax bills than last year, with property owners in Longview saving hundreds of dollars.

The declines are due to last year’s legislative “McCleary fix,” which shifted the burden for paying for basic education from rural school districts to the state, as well as to rising property values.

Property tax bills — which typically go out at about Valentine’s Day — will arrive a week or two later than usual because the Treasurer’s Office switched to a new receipt system, Treasurer Debra Gardner said last week

The county and local taxing districts are expecting to collect about $124 million this year, not including special assessments, said Janeene Niemi Assessor’s Office chief deputy. That’s a 8.8 percent decrease from last year’s $136 million.

“Pretty much everywhere levy rates went down,” Niemi said. “That’s what happens when values go up and the (housing) market recovers.”

Niemi said the recovering market had the biggest impact on levy rates. Because taxing districts can, under the law, only increase property tax rates by 1 percent each year, levy collection goes down when values grow more than that, she said.

The county general levy rate went down about 15 cents and the state school levy Part 2 rate, directly affected by McCleary, dropped 30 cents, giving everyone in the county a 45-cent decrease, Niemi said.

Beginning this year, the state Legislature’s “McCleary fix” caps local levies at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Individuals within the Longview School District saw the largest decrease in a school levy rate, $1.56 per $1,000, or $375 on a $250,000 home. Along with drops in state, county, city and port tax rates, city of Longview residents could see a cumulative $2.32 decrease per $1,000, or a $580 savings on a $250,000 home.

Longview’s industrial area also got a big tax break from McCleary, for a cumulative $2.09 decrease from last year’s rate. The industrial sector pays about 15 percent of the county’s overall tax bill. Niemi said over the last 10 years industry has begun paying more but the tax burden hasn’t make any “big swings.”

Kalama is the only area to see increase in levy rates because of the $63.4 million school bond voters passed last year to build a new elementary school and fund other improvements. The Kalama School District levy rate increased by $1.50 per $1,000, bringing the total levy rate for the area to about $11, an 80-cent increase from last year.

The average levy rate in Kalama is still less than the city of Kelso, rural Kelso and Lexington.

Niemi stressed that there are many factors within the county that can affect what each individual will pay, including special assessments not included in these estimates.

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