Tax Trouble: Sound Transit's tax district splits some properties

Some homeowners in Snohomish County are paying the ST3 property tax even though they didn't get to vote on ST3.

There's a new twist on the Sound Transit Three taxes angering people in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties.  We're now hearing from homeowners forced to pay higher taxes - even though only part of their land sits within the Sound Transit District.

The property tax side of ST3 comes out to $25 per year for every $100,000 of your home's value.

But what if only part of your property sits within the boundaries of the Sound Transit District?

It's a dilemma now facing 285 property owners: 51 in Snohomish County, 70 in King County, and 164 in Pierce County, according to Sound Transit.

To see exactly where your property is located within the Sound Transit District, click here.

"It's just crazy," said Snohomish County homeowner Cheryl Carlson, who is one of two homeowners on 105th Place Southeast in Snohomish whose property straddles the boundary line.

"I mean, we're all in the same subdivision.  So you would think it would make sense to say we are either in or out," she said.  "It just doesn't seem right."

Sound Transit's taxing district includes the most populated areas of King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.  

Sound Transit says the district generally follows the urban growth boundaries created by each county in accordance with the state Growth Management Act and electoral precincts established in 1996.

"My house wasn't here when the boundaries were drawn up, which I think is the reason why this happened," said Carlson.  "Because the boundaries were drawn up in 1996, and this house was built in 2000."

Since this year marks the first time Sound Transit has imposed a property tax, this is the first time the issue has come up.

What Carlson doesn't understand, is why she has to pay the ST3 tax increase on the 30 percent of her property that sits within the Sound Transit District, when she wasn't given a chance to vote on ST3.

"That, to me, is what's most wrong about it because the tax itself isn't gigantic. It's not that I can't pay it, to me it's the principle of the thing," she said.  "There was nothing about it on my ballot."

She feels it's taxation without representation.  Her neighbor just across the street agrees.

"We never voted on it.  We couldn't vote on it.  It wasn't on our ballot, so we had no choice on the matter," said Bill Steenis.

Just five percent of his property sits within Sound Transit's tax district, but he still got hit with the ST3 property tax increase. 

The Snohomish County Assessor told KING 5 she consulted with the Department of Revenue and the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney about how to handle properties that straddle the boundary line of the Sound Transit District.  She said she wanted to make sure she was following the law.

In the end, the assessor sent homeowners like Carlson and Steenis two separate tax bills.  One, reflecting the ST3 tax increase for the portion of their property that's within the Sound Transit tax district.  The second bill is for the portion of their property that's outside the boundary lines and does not include the ST3 tax.

Steenis and Carlson are among the many taxpayers who called their legislators and county tax assessors' offices to complain.

After hearing those complaints, Representative Mark Harmsworth proposed House Bill 1958, which would prevent Sound Transit from imposing property taxes on anything less than a whole parcel. 

Representative Harmsworth says he expects a vote on the bill by the end of the week.  So far, there's been no opposition to it, not even from Sound Transit.

A spokesperson for Sound Transit told KING 5 they are not opposed to the proposal and feel that it's important to address the issue of properties that are split by the boundaries of the tax district.

If approved, the bill would be retroactive to November of 2016, when ST3 was approved by voters. 

That means Carlson and Steenis might not have to pay those higher tax bills after all.

"I agree with this proposal, 100 percent," said Steenis.  "They spent a whole lot of time and effort to do two separate tax bills for my property."

Sound Transit Three is a 25-year, $54 billion transit package that will expand mass transit in Snohomish, King, and Pierce Counties with a range of light rail, commuter rail, and bus connections.

It's being paid for with tax hikes in three areas:

a property tax increase of $25 per year for every $100,000 of assessed home value;

a sales tax increase of .50 cents on a $100 purchase;

and a car-tab tax which amounts to an $80 increase for every $10,000 your vehicle is worth.

To see exactly where your property is located within the Sound Transit District, click here.

© 2017 KING-TV


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