IGWG model offers glimpse into tax future
June 9, 2008 · Updated 9:33 PM
That old adage about the predictability of death
and taxes was never so true.
At least where local taxes are concerned. Our five
taxing jurisdictions city, schools, parks, fire and library have this week unveiled the first-ever comprehensive Tax Model for Bainbridge Island, and its worth a gander and some fanfare. (You can find it online at www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us/igwg_tax_model.asp; click Link to Tax Model to download the document in PDF format.) Some months in the making, the model is the handiwork of the Intergovernmental Work Group, known colloquially as IGWG (rhymes with bigwig), and city budget manager Ralph Eells.
While unabashedly lengthy (the pessimists equivalent of comprehensive), the model provides an excellent and informative look at what you pay in property taxes, and to whom, and what services you get for your money. Perhaps more importantly, it offers a collective best-guess into the future of local taxes probably the first time our local agencies have, as a group, committed to such prognostication.
Factoring in upcoming capital issues (school construction bonds and a technology levy, a city issue for downtown improvements, what have you) and likely tax hikes for general operations, then adjusting for increases in local assessed valuation, the model can give the owner of the typical Bainbridge Island home an idea of what their property taxes will be every year through 2010.
Beyond its usefulness for financial planning, the documents political utility should also prove boundless. Local agencies and citizens who support the broadest possible palette of public amenities can, with some authority, tell gripey anti-tax types to pipe down; as it shows on page 19, fully 61 percent of 2005 property taxes on Bainbridge Island were authorized at the ballot box by a 60 percent supermajority of voters, for everything from school operations to open space preservation.
The anti-tax crowd, meanwhile, can wring hands with equal authority over the steady upward creep of the tax burden. As it says on page 21, that typical homeowner who writes a check for $4,031.10 in 2005 will have to shell out $4,725.61 in 2010, should all things come to pass. Indeed, there are some who no doubt hope that, presented with the long view, many folks will vote against more bonds and levies to exert some downward pressure on future measures.
The problem with this thinking is, it doesnt obviate the need for capital investment in our community. Having 41 percent of islanders say we cant afford $40 million to build new schools does nothing to solve the need for new buildings, any more than defeat of the last fire levy rolled back any miles from the odometers of old fire trucks.
Better, we think, if the various governments use the new tax model to coordinate their spending and meter their funding requests. Perhaps, as they did a few years ago, they might resolve as a group to keep the aggregate local property tax rate at or below a particular level, letting growth and redevelopment help absorb some of the tax burden over time.
It should be a good conversation, and make local taxes, at least, much more predictable. Now if IGWG could just forecast each of our deaths with equal accuracy, we could really do some planning.