Who gets the money? Many left with questions after property tax increase

Phones are ringing off the hook with sticker shock questions over the largest property tax increase in over a decade for many taxpayers. (KOMO News) 

Phones are ringing off the hook with sticker shock questions over the largest property tax increase in over a decade for many taxpayers.

"We started our mailing on February 14, which is our annual Valentine we send out to taxpayers as a result we are being inundated, the call volume tripled what it was last week," said King County Treasury Manager Scott Matheson.

The majority of callers are unhappy.

"Most are pretty nice about it though," Matheson said.

He said the more heated responses come in emails and tend to be the minority.

"One was a short F-you type of response," Matheson said.

Callers want to know - Why their property taxes are going up, and for some, why so high?

The bulk of the increase, 67 percent of the additional tax, was passed by the Legislature to increase funding for K-12 education.

Each statement, whether taxpayers get it in the mail or check online, breakdown the bill, showing where your property tax dollars go.

The portion for public education funding is marked as McCleary, after the McCleary Decision.

The State Supreme Court's McCleary decision ruled the state legislature failed to fulfill its duty to "make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."

In King County alone, the average increase due to McCleary is 17 percent, but it can go higher to 30 percent and in some cases even more.

With permission, we randomly pulled a tax bill from one of Matheson's coworkers and found a 25 percent hike in her taxes from 2017 to 2018.

"She had a $1,300 increase on her taxes, and $705 was related to McCleary," Matheson said.

"It's not fair," said Seattle's Perla.

The 66-year-old didn't want to share her last name. She visited the Treasury cashier window with an envelope full of cash.

She said couldn't afford it, so she borrowed the money from friends.

She gets hit twice - property taxes on her home and a Seattle parcel that she owns.

Perla said today she paid half the bill, that's nearly $4,000.

"I don't want to complain, but I can't do anything, and no one will help you if you complain," said the senior who said she doesn't qualify for a tax exemption for low income seniors.

The McCleary money will fund educator and support staff salaries - from nurses and bus drivers to librarians and para-educators.

"I think every single student in our state deserves access to educators who are there for them and can afford to serve in our schools," said Shannon McCann, with the Federal Way Education Association and Washington Education Association.

The State Supreme Court ruled the state must make new investments in public education.

The legislature decided to fund it this way. Lawmakers are working toward a Supplemental Budget - but haven't reached agreement.

The final Supplemental Budget will determine how much money will paid out.

"Unfortunately that is confusing and somewhat of a burden on our families it really does fund our students futures," McCann said.

Lawmakers admit the tax hike for many is too much and they plan to pass a tax cut but that's part of the Supplemental Budget negotiations too.

The WEA in a statement said, "The Senate Democratic Budget recognizes the need to fund competitive, professional educator salaries required by the Court's contempt order."

But McCann said that's not the case for the House Democratic budget, which she said does not 'fully fund' McCleary.

"We are very disappointed in the House budget," McCann said. "We want the Legislature to fulfill their promise to students."

Perla says she and seniors like her hope the budget will include a significant tax cut.

And one that comes sooner rather than later.

"They need to do something, nobody can afford this," Perla said.

Lawmakers have until the end of the session on March 8, to approve a supplemental budget.

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