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Originally published July 29, 2014 at 8:19 PM | Page modified July 30, 2014 at 12:06 AM

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Editor’s note: The Seattle Times political team investigates the claims of candidates and campaigns.

Truth Needle: Park-district opponents overstate tax claims

Opponents of a Metro Park Board for Seattle say the measure would increase property taxes 20 percent, but the math doesn’t add up.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Truth Needle rankings

We base our Truth Needle rankings on those used by Politifact.com, a fact-checking project by the Tampa Bay Times.

True: The statement is true and doesn’t require any additional explanation.

Mostly true: The statement is true but requires explanation or additional information.

Half true: The statement is partially true but omits key details or takes things out of context.

Mostly false: The statement has an element of truth but ignores facts that would lead to a different impression.

False: The statement is false.

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The claim: The group Our Parks Forever, opposing the creation of a Metropolitan Park District in Seattle, asserts in a recent mailer that if the measure passes, “your property taxes would increase 20%!”

What we found: False.

The park district, which would be created under Proposition 1, would be a new entity of Seattle government, with the power to raise revenue for parks via property tax. It would replace the current levy, which expires this year. Ballots have been mailed, and voters will decide on the proposal by Tuesday.

The King County Assessor’s Office told us that attempting to calculate a precise future property-tax increase is tricky on its face, as other taxes could come or go by the time it goes into effect. But even using today’s property tax as a baseline, the numbers don’t add up.

“Quite frankly, I’m not quite sure where the 20 percent number came from,” said county Assessor Lloyd Hara.

If Proposition 1 passes next week, the new park district would have the legal authority to impose a property tax of up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. Sitting Seattle City Council members, who would serve as the park-district board, say they plan to tax only 33 cents per $1,000 assessed value. However, a future council could raise that without voter approval, which has been a major criticism by opponents of Proposition 1.

But even adding the highest possible tax increase (75 cents per $1,000) to the 2014 property taxes ($10.29 per $1,000) that city residents now pay, the tax hike comes out to about 5.4 percent, if you first subtract the current park levy (19 cents per $1,000). That’s a much smaller increase than the 20 percent claim in the mailer.

“I would say it’s somewhat misleading, the way they put it in the mailer,” said Hara.

Carol Fisher, vice chair for Our Parks Forever, said the group based its numbers on Seattle’s levy cap of $3.60 per $1,000 assessed value. The park district would, in essence, add a maximum of 75 cents to this cap, she explained, which is how the group calculated the 20 percent increase.

Other parts of the property tax — more than two-thirds of what a homeowner pays each year — that go to the state, the school district, the county and other entities were disregarded by Our Parks Forever.

“We’re not talking all this extra state taxes for this and that,” Fisher said. “We’re talking about the Seattle real-estate property tax.”

OK, but why base the math on the levy cap of $3.60 and not the actual city property taxes paid, which, according to Hara’s office, are just under $2.91?

Fisher argued that proponents for the park district often used the levy cap as a reason to vote for Proposition 1, so it’s appropriate to use in this context.

Why wasn’t that explained?

“You have limited space in one mailer,” Fisher said.

“We did put down some facts, and we’re willing to stand by them,” she said.

They might be, but when you write your property-tax check, you write one that pays for city, county and state services. If Proposition 1 passes, that check would go up 5.4 percent at most, using 2014 numbers. It’s not close to 20 percent.

Andy Mannix: amannix@seattletimes.com



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