Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Why You Should Care About the Rural Residential Housing Ordinance

Heard this on KMAX Inland Northwest News yesterday.
Pullman pays 46% of Whitman County's property taxes. Remember, WSU is exempt from property tax.

That's stunning. In a county with an area of 2,150.37 square miles, a large part of the property tax revenue comes from an area of maybe 4-5 square miles.

That's one reason I would like to see more housing in the ag zone of the county. Let's spread the tax burden around a bit, shall we?


Bruce Heimbigner said...

Moving the tax base out of the city doesn't increase the tax base- and may decrease it. Though there are lots of good reasons to change the county housing ordinance, this isn’t one. In fact it could lower the tax base as people move to less expensive property in the county. Just as they do now by choosing to live in less expensive housing in Albion or Palouse. Also many of the services of the towns are supported by taxes that are raised exclusively by the town’s real estate taxes, and those services are enjoyed by people who live in the county (and don't pay the tax) so there is self interest for the towns to keep annexing property to the cities and to discourage development in the county.

Tom Forbes said...

I think this does support liberalizing rural zoning for two reasons:

1. Many houses proposed for the rural areas of the county are "mini-ranch" type homes with acreage. These would certainly be more valauable than homes say in Albion or Palouse. They can support their own infrastructure.

2. The reason Pullman carries the weight of the tax burden is the high property valuation in Pullman. It's simple supply and demand. The only land that is readily available to build on in Whitman County in quantity is in Pullman. Colfax did expand its amount of available land by a recent annexation (for those mini-ranch type homes I mentioned). Since land is scarce, it is more expensive. When it's worth more, you pay more property taxes.

On the one hand, I don't mind my property increasing in value, but the burden cannot strictly rest on homeowners in Pullman. Taxes will only go up and up as long as land stays scarce. It's great for those of us already have a house, but what about people looking to locate here and first time homebuyers?

I'm not saying liberalizing zoning in the county will increase tax revenue, just balance it out more. Right now, .002% of the land area is paying 46% of the property taxes.

Tom Forbes said...

Bruce, I don't know if you remember this post from a while back, but a couple of UI researchers did a study of why Moscow and Latah County are growing last year.

The study pointed out that Whitman County was declining both in population and real median family income.

Their conclusion was that this had to do with "the availability of quality, upper-income housing and a willingness on the part of the community to create more of it."

Latah County has less restrictive zoning laws than Whitman County, so upper-income housing tends to get built there versus here.

Bruce Heimbigner said...

I'll for sure read the moscow/latah study this weekend. I think your point #2 simply supports my reasoning.

On a simi-related matter, about pullman over regulating zoning laws I think it is that way because people not only demand that regulation but in fact want much higher level of restriction on what can be built on a given property. ALL (at least all I could find) property for sale in pullman have covenants that put much more restrictions than the citys zoning laws. Putting R2 property more restrictive than R1 and R1 way over the top. (hey, I do know of one lot for sale that doesn't have such cCovenants - mine.

WSUStretch said...

Not all property has additional covenants, but many do, especially most of the newer subdivisions. It's critical to know what those are before you buy. Remember, when those additional covenant restrictions are added, they are added by the current owner and any subsequent purchaser accepts those. I don't necessarily agree with the add on philosophy, but I understand what the original owner of the property is trying to do - maximize potential (Quality) and profit.

Bruce Heimbigner said...

Well other than new subdivisions there really aren't any lots in Pullman. I agree the convenents are added to maximize profit as are the city zones (well at least I think that is what they are about)

WSUStretch said...

Because true "neighborhoods" are not developed in the same way as they were 50 years ago, (where groups got together and built 3-6 houses in a new developemnt and then moved in themselves) so covenants are an attempt to recreate that (build with similar look & feel or with other height, landscaping or other requirement to provoke interaction among that subset of the community). Does it work? Not as well as moving your BBQ to your front yard and inviting your neighbors to bring over some burgers and potato salad :-)

Tom Forbes said...

Neighborly agreements over restrictive covenants and zoning? What a radical concept! I love it!! ;)