Senate passes Schoesler bill offering property-tax relief for residents rebuilding homes ruined by wildfires

The Senate today unanimously approved bipartisan legislation sponsored by 9th District Sen. Mark Schoesler that would provide property-tax relief for Malden-area residents and other Washingtonians who are rebuilding homes damaged or destroyed by wildfires last September.

Under Senate Bill 5454, passed 49-0, Washington residents who lost a home to wildfire between Sept. 1 and Sept. 19, 2020, would be exempt from paying property taxes on the full value of the original structure for three years, if the home is being rebuilt or physically improved.

Nearly 300 homes, including more than 120 residences in or near the Whitman County towns of Malden and Pine City, were destroyed by wildfires torching different parts of Washington last September.

“The terrible wildfires last Labor Day destroyed many homes in Malden, Pine City and other communities throughout our state,” said Schoesler, R-Ritzville, whose district includes Whitman County. “These homeowners lost practically everything, and it’s been a struggle for these families and individuals to recover. Some of them didn’t have homeowner insurance. This bill is just a way to offer a little bit of relief by helping ease their financial burden as they try to rebuild their homes and their lives.”

Two leading Democrat senators, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Christine Rolfes and Senate Majority Floor Leader Marko Liias, also spoke in favor of the bill during floor debate.

Before passing the bill, the Senate approved a floor amendment by Schoesler that he developed with the state Department of Revenue. The amendment:

  • Expands the exemption to single-family dwellings damaged by any type of natural disaster occurring on or after August 31, 2020, that has been reduced in value by more than 20 percent.
  • Limits the exemption to persons who owned the property at the time that it was reduced in value by a natural disaster.
  • Ends the exemption on June 30, 2026.
  • Requires the value of the improvements to be considered as new construction.
  • Gives the Department of Revenue rulemaking authority for purposes of administering the new property tax exemption.
  • Adds definitions for “improvement” and “qualifying single-family dwelling.”
  • Makes other technical and administrative changes.

Senate Bill 5454 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

According to a Spokane news report, 121 homes, eight commercial properties and 94 other structures were destroyed by the Labor Day wildfire in or near Malden and Pine City.

Statewide, 298 homes were lost in the September wildfires. In all, more than 700 structures were lost. More than 600,000 acres burned in Washington during the two weeks after Labor Day.