Wednesday, March 03, 2021

What to do about property taxes

| February 10, 2021 1:00 AM

A year ago, this newspaper editorialized in favor of a statewide property tax pause.

The Legislature was juggling three property tax relief proposals, and the one that made the most sense to us was freezing 2020 taxes at 2019 levels for one year. With many citizens complaining that their property tax increases were outpacing their ability to pay the heftier bills, a freeze to study exactly why that was happening seemed an appropriate first step.

Didn’t happen. In fact, other than appointing a committee to look at the issue before the 2021 session, the Idaho Legislature provided no tax relief. Well, the current legislature seems determined to do something. The question is, will it be the right thing?

Please read the op-ed today on Page A5. It’s written by Post Falls Mayor Ron Jacobson, but Jacobson is speaking for many when he cautions legislators against making policy that might look good on paper but end up hurting citizens in the long run.

To summarize, a big part of the reason citizens’ property taxes are going up so much is because the balance of the tax burden has been shifting further from commercial property to residential. One way to ease the burden on most people is to get the proportions back into better balance.

Another recommendation proffered by Jacobson and other local officials is to place caps on assessed valuations of properties. Yet legislators seem not to hear the alarms being sounded by city and county elected leaders.

If one result of the 2021 session is cutting in half (or more) the amount of tax revenue entities can collect from new growth — remember, the idea is getting growth to pay for itself — citizens should expect a diminishing return on public services.

Do we really want to see our law enforcement agencies capped or cut? Navigate more potholes in our streets? Have our parks, points of great pride in our communities, inadequately maintained?

It’s not too late. Kootenai County legislators can still help lead the way in finding more effective ways to address property tax problems without forcing local governments to cut services to citizens. A great starting point is better communication with those local leaders.