Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner suggested Wednesday that he will offer more property tax relief to homeowners this year as the pandemic tightens pocketbooks and local school districts shift to online learning.
Details of his plan will be released Thursday at 10 a.m. on the steps of the courthouse, said Baumgartner, who has been critical of school districts for opting to begin the year with distance learning only.
“Taxpayers are rightly angry and frustrated that they aren’t getting what they paid for with their tax dollars,” Baumgartner said Wednesday.
“Citizens are being put under substantial financial stress from the government economic shutdown and shuttered schools. It is only right they receive some form of relief,” Baumgartner said.
Under state law, Baumgartner can’t lower tax rates; only the Legislature and local governmental bodies can do that.
However, under the current statewide emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic, Baumgartner could grant another extension.
Baumgartner did that earlier this year. On March 31, two weeks after Gov. Jay Inslee ordered schools closed, he extended the tax collection deadline from April 30 to June 15.
He could do so again. As with the earlier extension, it probably would not include property owners who already owe back taxes, or those who pay through their mortgages.
It’s unclear what other relief the treasurer’s office could take.
“I look forward to laying out how the Treasurer’s Office will respond to help Spokane County taxpayers,” Baumgartner said.
On Wednesday, Baumgartner said his office has been approached by “many taxpayers” asking whether the school portions will be reduced after some districts announced they would not be opening for in-person learning this fall.
Between state and local education spending and voter-approved bonds and levies, about 55% of a property tax bill in Spokane County goes toward public education.
Criticism of school district spending isn’t new for Baumgartner.
Earlier this year, he challenged Spokane Public Schools to reconsider its 2018 decision to build a new sports facility at the current Albi Stadium site in northwest Spokane.
Labeling the Albi site a “30-year mistake,” Baumgartner enlisted support from local legislators and approached the board to work together to build a stadium near downtown.
But the board didn’t take up the issue, and the downtown stadium idea faded during the fiscal realities of the pandemic.
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