The Des Moines City Council convened for a study session on Thursday night, April 4, 2024, which began with King County Assessor John Wilson delivering an insightful presentation on property tax assessment processes, revenue allocation, and eligibility criteria for exemptions.

Additionally, the council received the final report of the Communications Assessment conducted by Consor, aimed at enhancing the city’s communication practices. Lastly, deliberations on the recruitment process for a new city manager unfolded, with council members articulating their preferences and considerations for the ideal candidate. 

Presentation On Senior Tax Exemptions

King County Assessor John Wilson presented to Council on how property taxes are assessed, what the revenue is used for, and how to qualify for exemptions. This presentation was requested by the council in preparation for a possible ballot measure that could lift the tax levy lid, increasing city revenue. 

Assessor Wilson explained that nearly 60% of property taxes go towards K-12 public schools. The next biggest chunk goes into the King County general fund, which he said mostly finances the criminal justice system. The remainder is divided between cities, fire, libraries, the Port of Seattle, and transit. See the full tax distribution on this pie chart

Wilson said that he has seen a shift in recent years toward residential property taxes making up the lion’s share of tax revenue, with commercial property tax only coming to 17%. He said this is because a lot of businesses are still struggling and many storefronts are left vacant, while home values have skyrocketed.

According to Wilson, three bills were recently being considered that would help to more equitably balance the tax situation in Washington, but all three failed to be passed this year. They were intended to help working class homeowners, small businesses, and renters. He said all three bills will be pushed again next year.

He shared that the senior exemption in King County has greatly expanded, increasing this year from a household income limit of $58,000 to $84,000. Seniors can apply if they are above age 61 or disabled. There are three levels of exemption, full, partial, or standard, based on income level. He gave as an example that the owner of a home worth $761,000 receiving a full exemption can save $6,000 on their annual property tax. He said this program enables more seniors to age in place. 

Any tax increase passed by ballot in Des Moines would have the same senior exemption.  To see if you qualify, Wilson said you can call (206-296-3920) or email ( with any questions, and apply on their website. He said that his department is reaching out to communities about the new senior exemption eligibility amount, but many tax professionals might still not know that  their clients could qualify.

Communications Assessment Final Report

Consor was hired by the city to conduct a comprehensive review of the city’s internal and external communication practices, and to determine where it could improve to better meet the needs of the public.

Interim City Manager Tim George said that the current communications capacity of the staff is already being maximized, but that they have made improvements in several areas since the initial requests for better communication arose. For example, he said that the ADA access updates to the website are almost complete. 

During Council discussion of this report, it was agreed that many of the items are things that will need to wait to be addressed until after a new city manager is hired. The new city manager would potentially hire a dedicated communications person. Council asked Interim City Manager George to figure out which of the recommendations can be done now with current staffing, and which should wait until a permanent city manager is found, and return to council with that list.

City Manager Recruitment Update

At this meeting, Council honed specifics on what they would want and need in a new city manager. Councilmember Harris said the next city manager should be someone who is good with community interaction, someone outward facing who enjoys directly engaging the public. Harris also suggested that it not be a requirement for any city manager to live in the city. He thought there might actually be a benefit in having them live elsewhere, as they would have a less-biased perspective on the city. In addition, it could save on moving expenses if the city doesn’t have to pay to move someone. It would also open up the potential applicant field further.

Assistant City Manager Adrienne Johnson-Newton said the recruitment firm had shared with her that they are seeing a smaller candidate pool than in the past. Des Moines has been offering a “healthy” compensation for this position, which makes the city more competitive in recruiting talented individuals. It is likely the salary will be set between $218,577 and $276,759. Specifics will be determined when the council meets with the recruitment firm.

Council discussed the idea of creating an “ad-hoc city manager recruitment advisory committee,” but in the end decided to stick with keeping all hiring discussions to city council meetings, since every councilmember wanted to be part of the hiring decision. They may hold special council meetings as the hiring process proceeds.

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors Theatre, and Hot Feet Fitness. After working for 10 years at Burien Community Center, she moved on to teaching fitness classes and to work the front desk of a Burien yoga studio. For many years Mellow kept a moderately popular cooking & lifestyle blog, and she had a brief stint in political journalism during a local election. Clear and informative writing has always been a side hobby of Mellow’s and she looks forward to bringing you unbiased coverage of City Council meetings.

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