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Home valuations up 15 percent

New assessments out this week.

In recent years, the afterburners driving island home valuations into the stratosphere appeared to be at full tilt.

Based on county assessments, home values went up 20 percent two years ago, followed by a jump last year of 15-19 percent, depending on the neighborhood.

Now, after a couple years spent pointed at the moon, the trajectory seems to be leveling ever-so-slightly, with word this week from the Kitsap County Assessor’s Office that the most recent island home valuations saw a uniform increase of 15 percent.

“The biggest question I get from people is, ‘why did they go up so much,’” said Kitsap County Assessor Jim Avery, of the valuations, which are used to calculate how much property tax a homeowner must pay. “They assume the bubble broke maybe because of what they’ve read in national publications.”

In Kitsap County and on Bainbridge Island in particular, he said, things have cooled a bit, though not as much as some might think.

The new valuations were based on 745 recorded home sales on the island last year, out of 12,549 improved residential parcels; they were based on 496 recorded home sales the prior year.

“There were some fairly small changes,” Avery said. “But there won’t be any significant changes to anyone’s property taxes.”

The bottom line, he added, is that property taxes on the island will climb by 3-5 percent.

That’s confusing to some, who assume that the percentage jump in their valuation matches exactly the increase in their taxes.

In truth, Avery said, one does not equal the other.

Yearly reassessments are based on formulas developed from real estate sales, using comparative data of homes sold in each specific neighborhood.

An individual home’s assessment is based on home sale statistics in that home’s neighborhood over the past year. The Assessor’s Office also does on-site assessments to determine whether a specific property’s value has increased or decreased.

Changes in value are influenced by a number of factors, ranging from home additions to changes in a home’s view.

The island has four independent taxing authorities; the city, school district, park district and fire department. Two other local entities, the Kitsap Regional Library and Kitsap County Sewer District No. 7, also draw from the local tax base.

Nearly half of all local property taxes go to schools, according to information published by the Intergovernmental Work Group, created in 1995 to illuminate local taxing issues.

All taxing districts are limited to a 1 percent annual increase in their levies, unless voters approve exceeding that limit.

On Bainbridge, the overall jump in taxes this year is in large part attributable to the 6 percent increase in the regular school district levy. Voters by a large margin approved a three-year $23 million education levy, and rejected a countywide measure to boost funding for Kitsap Regional Libraries.

Countywide home valuations on average increased by between eight and 11 percent. The biggest jumps were on the Bremerton waterfront, where values are up as much as 25 percent. Some neighborhoods in Suquamish, meanwhile, saw no change.

Suquamish is a good example, Avery said, of how the assessor’s office sometimes corrects errors from years past. Last year, some areas on the Suquamish waterfront saw increases in value of as much as 41 percent. That number may have been too high, he said, which is why there was no increase this year.

Avery said that current sales in some island neighborhoods are coming in “way above” county assessments.

“We may not have hit Bainbridge hard enough,” he said.

With the 15 percent jump in valuation, the median island home price – the price at which half of the homes in an area cost more, and half cost less – was $579,255 as of Jan. 1. Midway through this year, the median climbed to $660,000.

Including local and county taxes, last year’s median homeowner paid $4,695 in property taxes. Though those numbers don’t bode well for affordable housing advocates or those struggling to pay their property taxes, there is relief for some.

Seniors age 61 and older and those disabled from gainful employment may qualify for property tax relief if they live in their own home and make less than $35,000 annually.

Because the ultimate goal is balance, Avery said it’s a good thing that the entire island saw the same increase.

“We’re always tweaking it,” he said of the assessment process. “It’s not a perfect science.”

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Gripe here

Change of value notices were mailed yesterday to more than 91,000 Kitsap County property owners.

Homeowners who are unhappy with their property valuation can call the Kitsap County Assessor’s Office at (360) 337-7160 for an explanation. Those still unhappy can appeal to the county’s Board of Equalization, an appointed citizen group that considers complaints case by case. Appeals can be filed through the assessor’s office.

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