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Who’s responsible for property tax increases?

Ken Vance Editorial Clarkcountytoday.comAnother look at why Clark County residents are facing higher property tax bills on recently delivered statements

One of my mentors in journalism is Marvin Case, the former owner and current publisher emeritus of The Reflector Newspaper in north Clark County. Marvin had a rule. He wouldn’t allow his reporters to use the word unique because he didn’t believe anything was truly unique.

I liked the rule. As was usually the case, Marvin’s logic made sense to me. I challenge you to find a time in the last 10 years when I’ve described something as unique. As a result of my mentor’s wisdom, I may have, but I don’t think so.

I think we all could do a better job in the way we use brands, labels and descriptions to define things, especially human beings. Do you truly know anyone who you could paint with one broad stroke of a brush? Are labels and brands really accurate, or just partially accurate as Marvin believed?

When it comes to politics, especially local politics, are labels like Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative really appropriate or accurate? You’ve likely heard the phrase, “what’s political about a pothole?’’ The more local the political issue, the more removed I believe it is from one ideology or the other.

If you’re a Republican, does that automatically mean that you’re conservative when it comes to your ideology? If you’re a Democrat, are you by default a liberal? And if you’re ideology is one or the other on one issue, does that mean that label defines you on every other issue?

I don’t think so. That’s why I try very hard not to fall into that trap. I try hard not to label myself as conservative or liberal. I need to know the issue we are talking about first and I will tell you how I feel about that issue. It may fall into one category or the other.

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I’ve told you in this space before that I do believe in smaller, less intrusive government. If that makes me a conservative, well I guess it does — on that subject. One of the things that appeals to me about a smaller, less intrusive government is the smaller the government, the fewer taxes it needs to collect from its citizens.

Taxes have been a topic of conversation in Clark County in recent days. Most property owners have received their statements and increases have been staggering to many area residents, many of whom report increases of between 20 and 40 percent. We published a story over the weekend that included Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick’s explanation for the increases. Here’s a link to that story:

The story is a bit cumbersome in terms of facts and numbers. In short, there are a few key factors for the large increases in property taxes that many of you are frustrated with. As we have recovered from the recession, property values have gone up. But, usually when that happens, tax rates have gone down.

In this case, Van Nortwick explained that property values have gone up and tax rates have as well. Why have tax rates also went up? There are local factors such as levies for fire and emergency services and schools. But, the biggest culprit, Van Nortwick says, is that the state legislature implemented part two of a state school funding levy, which is designed to transfer property taxes from funding local school maintenance and operations levies to state funding for schools.

By now, no doubt you’re familiar with the 2012 McCleary Decision. The Washington State Supreme Court ordered the legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools. Does the court have jurisdiction over the state legislature  on this matter? That’s an argument for another day.

Even if you believe the court has jurisdiction, I still find fault with the performance of our lawmakers, who you remember needed special sessions last summer to reach an agreement on the budget.

For years, lawmakers have argued that funding education should be the first thing the lawmakers address in the budget process. Then, they allocate the remaining funds for everything else. But, instead of following that seemingly logical plan of action, they’ve continued to get all the other items funded first before getting around to funding education last. That practice has led to a bigger budget and higher taxes.

You know I’ve never told you who to vote for or how to vote. I’m not going to change that now. But, I have heard from many of you who are very upset your property taxes have gone up so dramatically. I wish more voters would take the time to research why and then make an informed decision how to react to that the next time it’s time to fill out a ballot.

In this case, that’s a quick look at last summer’s budget vote, which led in large part to your increased taxes. Clark County-area lawmakers were split on the final vote and they weren’t necessarily split along party lines.

In the senate, the total count was 39 in favor and 10 in opposition. Republican Senators Ann Rivers (18th District) and Lynda Wilson (17th District) both voted in favor of the budget and Sen. Annette Cleveland (49th District) voted against it.

In the house, the total count was 70 in favor and 23 in opposition. Republican Paul Harris (17th District) and Democrats Sharon Wylie and Monica Stonier (49th District) voted in favor of the budget and Republicans Vicki Kraft (17th District) and Brandon Vick and Rep. Liz Pike (18th District) voted against.

Here’s a look at that official vote with links to the roll call:

http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5883&Year=2017

Do what you wish with that information.

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About The Author

Ken Vance, Editor

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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