Editorial: Mount Rainier needs to show work before splitting residential tax rates

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Mount Rainier officials have said higher taxes are needed for the city's apartments to pay for police services rendered there. However, an analysis of police data reveals Census blocks with few housing units generate the most police activity.

As Mount Rainier City Council prepares tonight to consider legislation that would cut property tax rates for single-family homes while raising them for multi-family dwellings, one thing has become a matter of fact for Route 1 Reporter: two of the most-prominent justifications for such a scheme are based on unexamined conjecture. At best, they are mere hypotheses. 

In conversations with multiple Mount Rainier city officials, it has become clear that city officials did not conduct the analysis necessary to assert that densely-built multi-family apartment buildings consume more police resources than single-famiy neighborhoods. Nor are City Council members aware of any hard numbers or analysis by which one may assert apartment-owners — to say nothing of their mostly cost-burdened tenants — have been the beneficiaries of lower effective-tax rates than single-family homeowners in Mount Rainier. 

Indeed, recently-published analysis conducted by Route 1 Reporter on nearly 1,300 Mount Rainier police service activity logs from the first quarter of 2019 seems to indicate little overall variance in the density of police service activity between Census blocks of differing housing densities. Route 1 Reporter stands by its analysis of that data.

Route 1 Reporter has subsequently analyzed a broader tranche of police data, covering 6,000 police service incidents recorded within Mount Rainier Census blocks across all of 2018. While the final presentation of that analysis is not complete  — namely the interactive maps I like so much — Route 1 Reporter is prepared to report the following in the near future: 

  • Mount Rainier’s total incidence of police service activities is essentially equally distributed between the city’s most-dense, least-dense and middle-density Census blocks. Across Mount Rainier, the average density of police service actions was 9.15 per acre per block. In the most-dense Census blocks, it was 9.21 per acre per block. In the middle-dense blocks, it was 9.16 per acre per block, and in the least dense, it was 9.08 per acre per block. The difference between those levels and the average citywide density is less than one percent. Considering the standard deviation between Mount Rainier’s Census blocks is equivalent to 99 percent of the average value, the differences here are likely statistically insignificant across classes.
  • The single most-common police service activity, premise checks, occur more frequently in middle-density and low-density housing areas. The most-dense areas saw premise check densities of around 1.45 premise checks per acre per block. Middle-density areas recorded 4.07 premise checks per acre per block, while low-density areas recorded a category service density of 4.2 premise checks per acre per block.
  • The second-most common police activity, traffic enforcement, safety or management activities, occurred more frequently in areas of low housing density, mostly commercial corridors. The low-density areas saw 1.3 traffic service actions per acre per block in 2018, compared to 0.34 for middle-density and 0.49 in low-density tracts. The average citywide density per acre per block is 0.72 such service actions.
  • The third-most common police service activity, suspicious person reports, occur more frequently in middle-density areas than low or high-density housing areas. Middle density census blocks reported 0.62 suspicious person service activities per acre per block, compared to 0.57 per acre per block in high-density areas and 0.38 per acre per block in low density areas. The average citywide is 0.53 per acre per block.
  • The fourth-most-common police service activity, parking enforcement, occurs more frequently in high-density police areas, averaging 0.42 parking enforcement service actions per acre per block in those blocks compared to 0.27 in middle-density and 0.21 in low-density. Average citywide is 0.31 per acre per block. 
  • The fifth-most common police service activity – domestic situation responses – occurs more frequently in high-density areas, but at rates that appear to correlate with the relative density of housing units. Domestic violence responses have a density of .70 per acre per block in the high-housing-density blocks, roughly 130 percent above the citywide per acre per block average. These blocks are also 133 percent more-dense than the citywide average, in terms of housing units.
  • This trend also exists in an aggregate count of violent crime/non-vehicular accident emergency response service call types. Just such an aggregated value I created for this report was also 133 percent above citywide average densities of “violent/emergency” incidents in the city’s highest-density areas. Hypothesis? Interpersonal violent crime is more directly tied to per-capita incident generation phenomenon. It is important to remember, though, violent crime incidents make up a small slice of police work, which is mostly focused on property crime prevention, traffic management and reports of suspicious activity. My aggregate “violent/emergency” count numbered only 458 incidents out of 6,000 service actions.
  • Combined, the top-five categories of police service calls account for 53 percent of all calls for service in Mount Rainier in 2018.

One thought on “Editorial: Mount Rainier needs to show work before splitting residential tax rates

  1. Michael, thanks for your work on this. It is important that council members and candidates keep their rhetoric on a higher level and look at the facts of a situation, and not what they feel to be true. Taxing apartment buildings at a higher rate has no financial basis except for to widen the divide between social classes.

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