How about a county ordinance to protect residents from unlimited taxation?

by Misha Rauchwerger

Orcas Island

In response to your story “Islanders Feel sticker Shock at Change in Property Values,” I wrote this letter to the Assessor.

I am among many here on the Islands very concerned that we will be forced from our homes due to increasing property taxes; this is an unconstitutional levy of taxation and akin to stealing from the public. It is of no concern to me that my home is worth more, if I am not able to live here because taxes keep going up. My home is not “an investment.” In California, they have proposition 13 which protects people from this phenomenon. Without it, my folks who paid $29K for their home in Sunnyvale (paid for, and on Social Security), would be forced to pay taxes on a track home that happens to be valued at close to $3M, which they would not be able to afford, and would be effectively forced to move because of government essentially co-opting their home.

It’s not fair that our homes are not just where we live, but in this economy they are an asset class that has the ability to grow in value much faster than inflation, and more importantly much faster than our incomes. Combined with the hidden tax of inflation, which basically reduces our income, we get the double whammy. I am not opposed to paying taxes, and appreciate government services, infrastructure, and providing things we can not do ourselves as a community, but usery is a different story. What would you be doing, as our Assessor, if we went into hyperinflation like Argentina or Turkey? If housing prices doubled every year, would you simply continue to double our taxes too? It has to stop.

I have friends with historically agricultural properties which benefit from the Williamson Act, designed to protect farmers from the same phenomenon, as long as they continue to farm and produce food for the community.

Might there be a similar solution for RESIDENTS of San Juan County, to help keep us here? Non-residents can pay all the tax you want to levy on them (where this is their second “vacation home”). If you don’t, they drain the community of the money anyway by taking the profits from vacation rentals, or commercial property ownership (such as Oprah Winfrey here on Orcas), where the money made by local commercial businesses rapidly leaves the community.

I have no problem giving an annually increasing share of it to local governments. But for those of us trying to make a life here, caught up in an insane housing market not of our making or control, the system of re-assessment each year is driving out many of us, and actually fueling the boom cycle by making our homes available on the market for continued bidding wars and price increases.

Please, help us to come up with a sustainable solution that honors the need to fund our local government activities, and that protects residents from unlimited taxation.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss this issue. I’d even be willing to sit on a panel to work on a solution to this most important issue.