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​2018 General Election Part 2: Property Tax and Bonds Edition

​2018 General Election Part 2: Property Tax and Bonds Edition

There was a lot to write about regarding local ballot measures in Washington State in the 2018 general election! Today I’m continuing my 3-part look at the results. In part 1, I focused on local sales tax measures. In part 2 (below) I’ll take a look at property taxes and bond measures, as well as a rather unique affordable housing real estate excise tax. In part 3, I’ll examine all the non-revenue ballot measures such as city and county charters, forms of government, etc.

Once the results are certified, I’ll update our Local Ballot Measure Database with current results. You can use the database to research the results of over 1,500 local ballot measures (and counting) within the state since 2011.

There were so many property tax measures on the ballot that I can’t possibly write about them all, but below is a summary of some of the ones that caught my eye.

EMS Levies

There were a number of emergency medical service (EMS) levies on the ballot. Normally these levies are quite popular — according to our Local Ballot Measure Database, about 88% of EMS levies have been successful in recent years. However, EMS levies struggled in this election and, in particular, in rural areas, with voters rejecting new levies in and around Oroville, as well as in fire districts located in Grays Harbor, Pacific, Pend Oreille, and Stevens counties.

EMS levies are complicated by the fact that the “initial approval” of 6-year, 10-year, or permanent EMS levies must be approved by a 60% supermajority, while the “subsequent renewal” of a previously approved 6- or 10-year levy, as well as a levy lid lift to increase the EMS levy rate to previously approved levels, only requires a simple majority.

But even EMS levy lid lifts struggled, with voters in Everett and Pierce County Fire District No. 17 just barely supporting the measures.

For more information on EMS levies and their nuances, see our recently published EMS Levies topic page.

Levy Lid Lifts

As usual, there were a number of levy lid lifts on the ballot, with mixed results, including:

  • Voters in the City of Asotin rejected a levy lid lift for basic fire, police, parks, streets, administrative services, and city facilities. The city is now considering where to make cuts to its services, which city officials already describe as “bare-bones.”
  • Voters in Bothell approved a levy lid lift for public safety, including increased fire, police, and traffic officers and mental health professionals and support staff.
  • Voters in Mercer Island rejected a levy lid lift to sustain current levels of police, safety net, mental health, and park services. The city faces looming budget deficits starting next year and will now look to cut services.
  • Voters in Bainbridge Island rejected a levy lid lift to finance pedestrian and bicycle improvements.
  • Seattle voters approved a levy lid lift to provide funding for education, including expanded subsidized preschool and free community college for graduates of the city’s public schools.

Seattle’s levy is also noteworthy because it is the first one in the state to exempt qualified senior citizens, disabled veterans, and people with disabilities from the tax increase resulting from the levy lid lift. This is a new and optional exemption enacted by the state legislature earlier this year (see SHB 2597). Any city or county may exempt qualified senior citizens, disabled veterans, and people with disabilities if desired, as long as the exemption is stated in the ballot measure. However, due to the way the legislation was written, special purpose districts are not eligible and may not exempt these individuals unless new legislation is passed.

Library Measures

A levy lid lift for the Pierce County Rural Library District is trailing, although the race is still too close to call. If the measure fails, the library system will have to reduce or eliminate existing services and potentially close two or three libraries entirely. Update 11/28/18: Following a final vote count, the levy lid lift barely passed.

In Sequim, 65% of voters are supporting the formation of a library capital facility area to finance a new and expanded library. However, an accompanying 21-year, $12 million bond measure to finance the library is falling short of the required 60% supermajority for bonds. This has been a recurring problem for library capital facility areas in recent years — voters approve the formation of the district, which requires only a simple majority, but the accompanying bond measure often fails. The Sequim bond measure may be resubmitted to voters one more time, but if it fails a second time, under state law the library capital facility area must be dissolved.

And voters in Spokane approved a 25-year, $77 million bond measure for the expansion and modernization of the city’s library system, including three new libraries.

Affordable Housing Measures

Bellingham voters easily passed a 10-year extension of the Bellingham Home Fund, a combination of a levy lid lift and an affordable housing levy (under RCW 84.52.105) to provide affordable housing assistance, including down payment assistance, rental assistance, and construction of new low-income housing.

Voters in San Juan County approved a 0.5% real estate excise tax (REET) for affordable housing. This will bring the county’s total combined REET rate to 3.28% — the highest rate in the state and about double that of any other city or county. Of that amount, 1.28% goes to the state and 2.0% goes to the county (0.25% for REET 1, 0.25% for REET 2, 1.0% for land conservation under RCW 82.46.070, and now, 0.5% for affordable housing under RCW 82.46.075). However, San Juan County is the only jurisdiction in the state with the authority to impose REET for affordable housing so this particular revenue source is not available to any other city or county.

Metropolitan Park Districts

Voters in White Salmon and Bingen approved the formation of a joint metropolitan park district (MPD) to replace the local swimming pool. The MPD will be governed by an elected board of 5 commissioners, with an initial levy rate of $0.25 per $1,000 assessed value.

In Thurston County, Lacey and Tumwater both proposed the creation of metropolitan park districts to provide funding for parks and recreation. Both districts would be governed by thier respective city councils acting in an independent and ex-officio capacity, with similar levy rates of $0.47 and $0.45 respectively. Both votes were close, but in the end it appears voters approved the Tumwater MPD but rejected the Lacey MPD.

And voters in the Si View Metropolitan Park District appear to have narrowly approved a 30-year, $15 million bond measure for multi-use trails, parks, and other recreational facilities.

Other Park District Levies

There were quite a few park and recreation district/service area levies on the ballot. These levies often struggle, because it only takes a simple majority to form a park and recreation district/service area but a 60% supermajority to approve any levies. Further complicating matters, the levies require voter approval every six years.

However, park levies did fairly well this year:

  • Voters in Leavenworth (Upper Valley Park and Recreation Service Area) approved a 6-year levy to continue providing funding for the local swimming pool.
  • Voters in the North Whidbey Pool Park and Recreation District approved a 6-year levy to reopen the Oak Harbor swimming pool, which closed after two previous levy attempts were rejected last year.
  • Lincoln County Park and Recreation District No. 3 successfully passed a 6-year levy for maintenance and operation of the Davenport Memorial Hall and Davenport Water Park.
  • Voters within the Underwood Park and Recreation District in Skamania County approved a 6-year levy.

The only measure to fail was the Columbia Valley Park and Recreation District in Whatcom County, which was formed in 2016 and where voters had rejected a previous levy attempt last year.

Other Bond Measures

In addition to the park and library bonds discussed above, there were several other bond measures on the ballot, which generally did well:

Anything Else?

Are there any interesting property taxes, bond measures, etc. that I missed? Leave a comment below or email me at If you have questions about ballot measures or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Steve Hawley

About Steve Hawley

Steve joined MRSC in July 2014 and is responsible for writing, editing, and conducting research for many of MRSC’s website resources, with a particular focus on local government finance, budgeting, ballot measures, and procurement. He has a broad communications and public policy background with over a decade of local government and nonprofit experience.