Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Bill to provide property tax relief for residents rebuilding after wildfires passes state Senate

In downtown Malden, Washington, the former post office, lower left, and another historic building, lower right, still smolder Sept. 8, the day after a fast-moving wildfire swept through the town west of Rosalia.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – A bill that would provide tax relief to Washington residents when rebuilding homes damaged by natural disasters passed the Senate unanimously.

The bill, sponsored by Ritzville Republican Sen. Mark Schoesler, began as an effort to help Eastern Washington residents whose homes were destroyed in Labor Day fires last year. After the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied individual assistance to Whitman County, Schoesler said he wanted to provide some assistance to people trying to rebuild.

“This is an effort to provide a little bit of relief to those families,” Schoesler said on the floor Tuesday.

But the bill has expanded to include any resident in the state whose home is damaged by any type of natural disaster on or after Aug. 31, 2020. The home must be a single-family dwelling that’s value has reduced by more than 20% due to a natural disaster. Only a person who owned the property at the time of the disaster can apply for the exemption, which will expire June 30, 2026.

The bill will provide property tax relief to Malden residents, who Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Christine Rolfes said “literally lost everything, including their town.” It will also extend the relief to others who may find themselves in this situation in the next few years, she said on the floor.

Malden Mayor Dan Harwood told The Spokesman-Review last week that the bill gives some residents hope that they’ll be able to move back to town.

“People will be moving for their own reasons, but they’re not going to be moving because Malden isn’t going to be coming back,” Harwood said.

Senate Floor Majority Leader Marko Liias, of Lynnwood, said this bill was an example of when lawmakers come together despite party labels to provide relief. Eastern and Western Washington may have different philosophies, he said, but when tragic events like the fires happen, the state unites.

“This bill is sending the message that when Washingtonians are hurting, there is no Cascade curtain,” he said during the debate.

The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives for further consideration.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.