Dianne Dorey, Lewis county assessor and I have met with legislators, testified, phoned and spent hours working on this bill. There are currently two commercial timber programs; parcels over 20 acres (Designated Forest Lands, DFL) and those parcels over five acres, but less than 20 acres (Open Space Timber OS/TBR). Parcels in these programs receive a lower assessed value in return for commercially growing timber. This bill simply gives counties the option to merge the two and have one timber program (DFL) for those lands over 5 acres which qualify.
Currently small timber growers pay at least twice as much in fees and have to spend twice as much time enrolling in the program than a large timber company such as Weyerhaeuser does. The requirements for the two are identical, the only difference is the acreage. This bill makes the process fair and treats both large and small timber growers the same. It also saves both the county and the small property owner time and money. The Pacific County Board of County Commissioners backed this bill and plans to pass the ordinance as soon as they are able by law. It’s a pretty common sense bill; so maybe that’s why it took 11 years to get passed.
The assessed values of parcels in the timber programs are set by the state every year. The assessed value is for the land only, not the trees growing on the land. The average assessed value for timber land in Pacific County is approx. $135 per acre, much less than land not in the programs.
In return for a smaller annual property tax bill, and the subsequent shifting of the tax burden onto other property owners, timber lands are charged a 5 percent excise harvest tax when the trees are cut and sold. Four percent remains with the county in which the timber is located and 1 percent goes to the state. The 4 percent remaining in the county is distributed as follows:
Priority 1: Bond levies and capital projects
Priority 2: School maintenance and operations (M&O) levies
Priority 3: other excess levies;
In November when my office is calculating tax levies, we use the projected harvest excise tax collections for the forthcoming tax year (the estimated amounts we receive from the state) to lower the levy rates for the bonds, M&O’s and excess levies. Any remaining funds are distributed to the various taxing districts and don’t affect the levy rates. In 2013 there was a total of $3,205,327 in private harvest tax collected and dispersed in Pacific County.
Senator Braun of the 20th District sponsored the bill. Representatives Blake of the 19th and Orcutt of the 20th sponsored the identical companion bill in the House. Senator Hatfield and Representative Takko of the 19th have sponsored this bill before. All of southwest Washington’s legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, were instrumental in getting this bill passed. It’s amazing what gets accomplished when we all work together. This bill has nothing to do with party affiliations; it has to do with helping taxpayers experience less red tape and fees with no shifting of tax burdens to others.
Open Space laws, which include Farm and Ag, Conservation and Timber property designations, are covered in RCW’s 84.33 and 84.34.
If you have any questions about timber or any other property tax issues, or see a correction needed on our Taxsifter or Mapsifter websites, please contact us at 875- 9301, 642-9301, 484-7301 or 267-8301. Our office hours are 8 am-4:30 pm Monday-Friday at the courthouse, and 9-12 Wednesday mornings at the Long Beach office at 7013 Sandridge Rd.