Letters to the Editor

Taxes: County tax program impaired

We have always paid our property taxes on time and in full. Yet, for the second year in a row, Island County has sent us an additional tax bill months late. Yes, I said an additional bill. So we think we have paid in full and go on our merry way, but wait, they say they’re months behind and haven’t calculated everything yet. Now, for the second year in a row, we are expected to pay hundreds more, given one month to do so and can expect this year’s property tax bill a little more than a month later. Confused? So are we.

Why is it acceptable for Island County to be so far behind in figuring the proper amount of property tax to be billed? Why is it acceptable for them to send additional tax bills four or five months after the fact, but expect immediate payment within 30 days or risk penalty? It certainly isn’t OK for any one of us to wait months past a bill’s due date. It isn’t OK for any one of us to miscalculate what we owe.

When I called Island County, I was told several things by a woman who said she just recently took over the position of trying to straighten things out. One of the things she repeatedly said was, “Sorry, ma’am, but my hands are tied.” She said this while while also saying it was her goal to “catch up” on how far behind they really are. I hope she is able to untie her hands soon, because it looks like she’ll need both of them to fix the mess our treasury department is in.

She stated that we keep getting these additional after-the-fact property tax bills because they send out their statements before another department is done figuring their end of things. Does that make sense to you? Rather than having hands tied, it sounds like one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. Why not wait until all assessments are in and then send one bill with the correct amount instead of springing the suprise-you-actually-owe-hundreds-more than you were originally billed? We heard the same reasoning last year from a completely different employee. Just what is going on at the Island County Assessor’s office? Why are they months behind, and why do they think that is and acceptable legal practice?

Let’s say you go to a store and buy a television for $300. Five months later, you get a bill from the store saying you owe an additional $500 for the television, because it was really an $800 television; they just didn’t bill you properly. It’s the same scenario.

Furthermore, if Island County isn’t sure what we truly owe when they send the original bill, how can we be sure that the they’ve come up with now are indeed correct? Should we wait a few more months to pay, in case they come up with a different amount again? Oh wait, we can’t do that. We’ll be penalized.

When this same situation happened to us last year, I was told, in person, by a treasurer’s department employee that they are woefully “understaffed and underpaid.” When I contacted Linda Riffe, our county treasurer, and mentioned this, her first concern was, “Who said that?” In a letter she wrote me, she stated, “Because I have six staff members to serve 78,000 citizens (this includes Camano Island), that equates to one staff for every 13,000 citizens in Island County.” And we’re to believe that with those kind of numbers, everything we are billed for is correct, no doubt.

I think Island County needs serious overhauling when it comes to their treasury department, and how and when they get things done. I’d go and help, but my hands are tied. Instead, I need to figure out a way to come up with the hundreds of dollars they say we still owe on a property tax bill we already paid in full one time last year.

Methinks it’s time to dump tea. Any attorney or other citizens out there interested in finding a boat? We’ll bring the tea.

Luanne Raavel

Coupeville

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