County Seeks Alternative to Property Tax Freeze for Senior Citizens

November 28, 2007
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County Commission is trying to figure out a way to give property tax relief to eligible senior citizen property owners without having to adopt the property tax freeze which was overwhelmingly approved by voters at the polls last November

Counties and cities in Tennessee can now freeze the property tax rates for eligible homeowners 65 and over. State lawmakers gave local governments the authority to enact the tax freeze during the legislative session

The adoption of a property tax freeze by local governments is the final step in an effort to limit the impact of rising assessments and property taxes on seniors with fixed incomes. The process began with Constitutional Amendment No. 2 which received an 83 percent "yes" vote statewide in the 2006 general election.

In DeKalb County, the vote was 4,125 (83%) to 805(16%) in favor of the Constitutional amendment

County commissions and city councils are now authorized to freeze the property tax rates at their current levels for homeowners with combined incomes at or below $24,000 a year.

The freeze would mean eligible homeowners would not have to pay higher taxes the next time a local government increases property tax rates.

County Mayor Mike Foster raised the issue during Monday night's county commission. Foster and Steve Bates, the county's financial advisor, say only a few counties in the state have adopted the measure, because of the complexities of the program and the cost of administration. "It's a really complicated thing (tax freeze). I think only six other counties have adopted it so far. It basically says that a household can make no more than $24,000 and must meet all the other requirements. It only covers your primary residence and up to five acres of land, so if you own a farm it won't apply to that. It will only apply to five acres. It will mean that the Trustee would probably have to hire two more employees (to administer the program) because every year, every person who wishes to apply for that (tax freeze) has to re-apply. They have to bring in proof, such as their income tax statements, on a yearly basis, and it has to be itemized."

According to Foster, the cost of administering this program would most likely exceed the savings to the taxpayers. "One county was going to return about $30,000 to the people who applied but it was going to cost about $50,000 to do it."

Foster says the county will come up with a plan that mirror's the state property tax relief program, to serve those that the tax freeze Constitutional amendment is intended to help." We already have a property tax relief program in place by the state. Under the program the household cannot make over $24,000 and it sets a value on the house. You cannot exceed that value for that house. We currently have about 306 people that are in that program. What some of the other counties are doing is giving them a (local) tax break tied to this (state program). It takes the burden off the taxpayer of having to bring their records in each year and upgrade it. If we're giving them whatever percentage of money they'll be saving anyway, then they don't have to jump through all these hoops and we don't have to hire two or three people to work in the Trustee's office."

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