As Kootenai County enters budget season, early predictions are that property tax bills could drop this year for the typical Coeur d’Alene and Rathdrum homeowner.
The picture is not as bright in Post Falls, Hayden and Hayden Lake - where tax increases are expected. But even inveterate tax wolf Ron Rankin says signs are promising this year.
County leaders, highway district commissioners and the mayors of Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls said Friday they planned to increase spending no more than the amount generated by new growth. New state law allows them to take an additional 3 percent on top of revenue from new growth.
They also called on the county’s other three dozen government bodies that levy taxes to hold the line on spending.
“I walk the dog at noon and every neighbor who stops me says ‘what about it?”’ County Treasurer Jeanine Ashcraft told a gathering of taxing district leaders Friday morning. “The bottom line is, we have to control spending.”
County Commissioner Dick Compton said county department heads asking for new employees will first have to show what they have done to cut waste or become more efficient.
Rankin said such goals are rarely set so early. Final tax and budgeting decisions aren’t made until early fall.
“Today was encouraging,” he said. “Apparently, they (tax setters) are finally getting the message.”
But he also rapped elected leaders’ collective knuckles.
“Before we hand out too much praise we have to keep in mind we’ve had four years of obscene increases,” he said. “It’s easy to hold the line when your budget is already jacked way up.”
Officials say they know residents want taxes cut, but say their actions this year should signal a change.
“If we tell people now we’re trying to tax only new construction and it turns out to be true in their tax bill, maybe we’ll earn some credibility,” said County Clerk Tom Taggart. “If it’s not true, they’ll never believe us again.”
Officials know residents are skeptical.
Hundreds of homeowners jammed phone lines and crammed into the courthouse two weeks ago to complain about rising property assessments. Land values countywide jumped more than $975 million - about 28 percent.
Some residents and businesses, particularly near Post Falls and Hayden Lake, saw their property values more than double. So far, 418 residents had picked up applications to appeal.
County leaders stress that those large land value increases won’t necessarily lead to equally large tax increases. That’s because districts cannot increase their budgets by more than 3 percent.
For example, even in Post Falls, where the typical home increased in value by 26 percent, the corresponding tax increase won’t likely top 4.5 percent, according to models developed by the county assessor’s office. And that’s if taxing districts spend as much as law allows.
“We don’t expect to see that happening,” Compton said.
More expensive homes will be hit slightly harder because homeowners’ exemptions top out at $50,000.
In Coeur d’Alene, about 75 percent of homes increased in value by only 19 percent this year. City residents who fall in that category and also own a home valued at $103,000 or less - the city’s average sale price in 1994 - should see a slim tax cut, said deputy County Assessor Mike McDowell.
Typical Rathdrum homeowners could also see their taxes drop by 5 to 7 percent, McDowell said.