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Initiative Would Cap Property Taxes

When he retired in 1986, Stanley Rhoads figured he and his wife Alice were ready to enjoy the good life.

“Our thinking was: The house would be paid for, and we’d have a little phone bill and a little tax to pay and our pension and Social Security to live on,” said Rhoads, 73, who worked 31 years in a Spokane foundry. “We’d be set.”

Instead, while the couple’s income has remained fixed, property taxes on their Woodridge neighborhood home have kept going up.

“I mailed off a check for $1,102.90 today, and that’s only half of it,” Stanley Rhoads said. “The way these taxes are going up, I don’t know where it’s going to end.

“Our property taxes are $500 more than they were last year. At this rate, people will have to sell and go to the poorhouse.”

Rhoads said he’s eager to sign Initiative 650, an initiative to the people that would put a lid on property tax rates.

Proponents must gather more than 181,000 valid signatures by July 7 to put the measure on the November ballot.

The initiative would reset all property base values at 1993 rates and cap annual increases at no more than 2 percent.

The measure also would create a property tax exemption for a primary residence, which would result in a tax cut of about 50 percent on that home.

All residential, business, commercial and industrial property would be covered by the measure.

The initiative would mean big savings for Spokane property owners, who have seen their property taxes skyrocket in the past two years.

During the 1980s, valuations remained nearly flat because of a slow real estate market. Property taxes rose very little.

But since 1989, property owners have watched the annual valuation of their property rocket.

“At this rate, I think you could even see people go for some kind of California-type solution, it’s gotten so bad,” said Rhoads, referring to the Proposition 13 property tax revolt.

Gov. Mike Lowry said this week he opposes property tax cuts which, he says, Washington can ill afford.

The House and Senate each have floated property tax cut measures, but so far, they haven’t been able to agree on a final version. And that, some say, could send property tax cut proponents flocking to Initiative 650.

“We’ll do something about property taxes,” said Sen. James West, R-Spokane, “because we have to.”