North Idaho taxpayers will pay 3.1 percent less in property tax this year than last.
A Spokesman-Review analysis of Idaho State Tax Commission figures shows that total taxes are falling in all five northern counties, despite substantial new growth.
Some taxpayers still could see an increase, cautioned Henry Nagel, a Tax Commission division administrator. “It depends on what happened to their (property) value compared to the typical change in value for everyone else,” he said.
But overall, taxes are down, even though taxable values throughout the Panhandle are up 23.2 percent from 1994. Taxable values are market values minus any exemptions.
“I don’t know how it is in the rest of the state, but up here most of the government leaders got a clear message from the public that something had to change,” said Kootenai County Administrator Tom Taggart. “The hospital stopped levying taxes altogether. A couple other districts lowered their taxes. There were only a few in the county that took every dollar they could take.”
The biggest factor in the falling taxes is Gov. Phil Batt’s $40 million property tax relief legislation. That measure put up $40 million from the state general fund to replace an equal amount of property tax levies for public schools.
As a result, most North Idaho school district tax bills dropped significantly. Coeur d’Alene schools will take in $1.2 million less in property taxes this year, an 8.2 percent drop. Post Falls schools will collect 5.6 percent less.
But Batt’s plan would have allowed bigger tax increases for other local government agencies than many took. His legislation limited local government budgets to a 3 percent increase, with exceptions for new growth and voter-approved tax overrides.
The Panhandle had plenty of new growth.
“The credit belongs to the prudence of the local taxing districts and the pressure of the public,” said Ron Rankin, president of the Idaho State Property Owners Association and an anti-tax activist. “The degree of awareness of the public is what has brought down the amount to be paid up here. And the threat of the 1 Percent (Initiative) on the local taxing districts.”
Rankin’s group is collecting signatures to put a tax-limiting initiative on the ballot, and he says he’s seeing growing support, particularly from businesses.
Homeowners pay only 30 percent of the property tax in Idaho. Businesses and landlords pay the remaining 70 percent.
Pat Raffee, executive director of Concerned Businesses of North Idaho, said her group is pleased that property taxes are starting to fall. “The last five years, most of the taxing districts have had double and in some cases triple increases in their budget,” she said. “This is just the beginning of turning it around. Hopefully this is the crest and they’ll fall farther next year.”
Raffee said the figures are proof that growth in North Idaho doesn’t have to mean higher taxes. “Growth can pay for itself, providing government doesn’t grow faster.”
She also said her group sees growth slowing “enormously” and being less of a factor in future taxes. “That’s last year’s issue,” she said.
Governor Batt, in his campaign, acknowledged that the property tax is an unpopular one and promised relief. He held a news conference last week to announce that his plan is working, with property taxes statewide showing their smallest increase in 14 years.
The Tax Commission figures show North Idaho has fared better than the statewide average. All the taxing districts in North Idaho, from cities and counties, to fire, highway, school and sewer districts, will take in a total of $104.6 million in property taxes in 1995. That’s a $3.4 million drop from 1994’s total of $108 million.
But Batt doesn’t plan additional property tax relief next year, and Rankin warned that taxing districts that didn’t raise taxes this year could make up for their frugality next year.
“Next year the tax bills will come out after the general election,” he said. “Don’t be lulled back to sleep by this.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PROPERTY TAX BILLS Total property taxes from all taxing districts are down in North Idaho this year. Here are the figures for each of the five northern counties: Benewah: Down 5.2 percent Bonner: Down 7.97 percent Boundary: Down .02 percent Kootenai: Down 1.82 percent Shoshone: Down 1.46 percent Total property taxes due in North Idaho for 1995 are down 3.1 percent, or $3.4 million, from 1994 bills. At the same time, the total property value subject to taxes in North Idaho has risen by 23.2 percent. Source: Idaho State Tax Commission.
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