Big backlogs on property tax exemptions in King County

The King County assessor was overwhelmed and fell months behind on reviewing applications for property tax exemptions for seniors, people with disabilities, and disabled veterans, according to the county auditor.

In a prepared report May 10 to the County Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, the auditor said applications took a median of eight months to process in 2020 – twice as long as the previous year. While the Department of Assessments worked to speed up the process, it couldn’t catch up enough to avoid a backlog of 4,913 new applications by the end of the year.

Auditor Kymber Waltmunson acknowledged the assessor’s office worked amid “extraordinary challenges” beginning in early 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19, including a transition to remote work for a team that was primarily paper-based until then. In addition, applications tripled in 2020 when the income threshold for exemption eligibility was raised by state law, adding workload.

Waltmunson also reported:

  • Despite increases in processing speed, the assessor still had a backlog of 3,782 new applications by the end of 2021, suggesting long wait times will continue this year.
  • In 2020, some applicants had difficulty accessing and completing an application online. Before the pandemic, the assessor depended on in-person assistance at service counters to help customers with applications. The department has since moved to a new office and is awaiting completion of a new service counter to restart this service.
  • The exemptions program needed to update and strengthen its procedures, quality control, performance monitoring, and teamwork. Gaps in these areas reduced accountability, consistency, and transparency. To improve, the auditor recommended data-driven staffing and a comprehensive customer service strategy.



Property tax exemptions for seniors and disabled persons for 2022 are available to citizens who were at least 61 by the end of 2021 or retired because of a disability, with an income of $45,708 or less. Exemptions must be renewed once every six years unless there is a change in status or income.
The exemption freezes the value of a home as of Jan. 1 of the initial application year, exempts the property from all excess levies, and may exempt a portion of regular levies. Taxes are calculated on the lesser of market value or frozen value.

Applications and information are available at, 206-296-7300, and for King County landowners. In Pierce County, the same is available at 253-798-6111 and for Pierce landowners.