Yes, a property tax budget freeze would help homeowners

Fred Birnbaum Articles Leave a Comment

In recent debates about legislation to freeze property taxes, opponents claimed that a freeze would not reduce the property taxes of most homeowners in Ada County.

Opponents are wrong.

Your property tax bill as a homeowner changes each year because of three things: How much more (or less) your particular taxing district spends from one year to the next, how much your individual home assessment goes up, and how much the total taxable market values grew in your taxing districts.

While digesting the above three points, consider this: From 2018 to 2019, the property tax budgets for all taxing districts in Ada County increased $52.9 million. Had those budgets been frozen, as they would be under House Bill 409, Ada County taxpayers, in aggregate, would have paid $52.9 million less in property taxes or about 8% less. 

Naturally, individual homeowners would not all see the same relief, because not everyone’s home value assessment increased at the same rate. But, nearly everyone would benefit.

When freeze opponents argue most Ada County homeowners wouldn’t benefit, they are being disingenuous. They are claiming, because assessments went up by large amounts for some homeowners it would mute reductions due to the budget freeze. What opponents don’t want you to know is this: Everyone would be better off with a property tax freeze than without one — even homeowners whose taxes might go up slightly. Their taxes would rise by less under a freeze.

My own property taxes went up slightly from 2018 to 2019.  Under a budget freeze, they would have decreased by 2.3%. That’s far better than an increase.

Let me leave you with a final thought on the difficulty of securing property tax relief. Property taxes in Idaho are government-spending driven, which simply means for you to pay less, taxing districts have to take less from you — and they hate that idea.

Ada County Commissioner Rick Visser, in a letter to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, explained local officials’ resistance to the freeze bill nicely, “Because my fellow commissioners are not joining me in reducing Ada County spending and because property taxes have increased so drastically, I am also in favor of Representative Moyle’s bill to freeze the property tax portion of a taxing district’s (except for schools) budgets for one year.”

Many Ada County officials (and certainly many city and county officials generally) don’t want taxpayers to realize how much local governments have grown spending from the portion of their budgets funded by property taxes. From 2017 to 2019, Ada County’s roughly 40 taxing units (county government, cities, schools, ambulance district, cemeteries, fire, library, roads, etc.) grew spending 18.2%, from $556.7 million to $658.0 million – that $101.3 million was all absorbed by property-tax payers. That’s a fact.

In other counties, spending increases are causing the same pain, just not as dramatically, with Idaho’s other 43 counties increasing spending on average 11.2%, or $138.2 million, in aggregate, over the same two year period.

A property tax freeze would bring tax relief. It really is that simple. Anyone who tells you differently just isn’t telling the truth.