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King County looks for property tax relief during coronavirus crisis

Washington state has already issued a moratorium on evictions for the next 30 days for those who have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, but what about property tax relief?

“What we’re doing is kind of going down two tracks now, looking at what authorities are already on the books that could be exercised by the governor or the county executive or the assessor, and then if there is a special session, what else we can do,” said John Wilson, King County Assessor, on KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.

Wilson said under the emergency provisions declared by the governor, property taxes could be delayed for up to 30 days and penalties or interests on late payments could be waived.

“Along with the county executive and all the county council members, we’ve sent [Gov. Inslee] a letter asking him to consider doing that,” he said.

County leaders are working to determine the financial ramification of this to both the local governments and the state. Wilson said they also want to target the right people.

While some have asked about the potential to excuse property taxes for the year given the current situation, Wilson said that’s unrealistic.

“The problem with that is so much of our tax system is based, for local governments and state governments, upon the property tax — that’s just not realistic,” Wilson said. “Schools depend very heavily on property taxes, probably 60% of your property tax dollar goes to public education, K-12 schools, and then the county relies heavily upon the property tax.”

That being said, Wilson does believe there is a way to provide some “near-term” property tax relief.

“You need to look at both individuals that are going to be in hardship situations where they’ve lost their job or their income’s been significantly curtailed,” he said. “I also need to look at small businesses and we need to so something that would have an immediate impact on them and provide them some significant property tax relief right away.”

Wilson also said it would help if the state had a homestead exemption, though admitted it’s a stretch. Washington is one of ten states without this exemption, which he said would provide property tax relief to all homeowners.

“But we’ve got to figure out how to lower the burden of the property tax on those right now that are particularly hit hard because, unfortunately, some of them, especially some of the businesses, they just won’t come back if we don’t do something to help them right away,” Wilson said. “And in the case of homeowners and even renters, it’s the risk of eviction or, heaven forbid, foreclosure.”

Wilson does think we can get through this and hopes to make sure no one is thrown out of their homes because of this crisis.

“We need to be, as a government, sensitive that this is having a very real and very immediate impact on tens of thousands of our neighbors,” Wilson said.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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