VOL. 114 | NO. 108 | Monday, June 5, 2000
By STACEY WIEDOWER
Seniors to benefit
from tax relief plan
By STACEY WIEDOWER
The Daily News
Tax relief legislation that could reduce the amount of property tax paid by low-income citizens 65 years of age and older is being considered by the state legislature, announced Shelby County Assessor of Property Rita Clark at a press conference Friday at a South Memphis senior center.
Clark and her staff have been working since January to ensure passage of the legislation, which would increase the minimum income requirement seniors must meet to receive tax relief funds. It also would increase the amount of money they are able to receive.
Currently, citizens eligible for property tax relief must have a total household income of less than $11,360, nearly $7,000 less than the countrys present poverty level.
The legislation would raise that eligibility level to more than $14,000 by exempting benefits such as Social Security, disability and retirement benefits, up to $300 per month or $3,600 per year, from older citizens incomes.
The change would allow at least 2,000 more citizens to qualify for property tax relief each year, according to state figures.
"It creates a larger catch area for senior citizens," said J.M. Bailey, director of the assessors office. "Saving even 2,000 more homes is better than losing them. Memphis is already the bankruptcy capital of the country."
With the state calling for local governments to help it find ways to reduce spending, property taxes are a natural area to increase.
"This is what we call a cost-of-living adjustment," Bailey said. "If we dont create a cost-of-living adjustment for seniors and disabled persons, we are going to experience large numbers of people from those control groups losing their property."
The proposed legislation was drafted by Clarks office in the wake of the 1998 reappraisal, where many homes owned by older citizens saw a rise in market value due to economic prosperity, said Patrick Lafferty, director of the assessors offices answer center.
"A lot of seniors have owned these homes for years and have no intention of selling them," Lafferty said. "Market values have risen, and their income levels have not."
He said the current tax relief system is inadequate in that it doesnt allow enough older citizens to qualify.
"We think this is a proactive reaction to a problem we recognized, especially with the rise in the number of senior citizens who could qualify for tax relief," he said.
Clark said the past eight years of economic prosperity that caused property values to rise blind-sided many older citizens, who now require the governments help.
"Some seniors were having to make very difficult choices regarding lifes necessities," Clark said. "The alternative to not paying your taxes is losing your home. This bill, even though it is not enough, it is the first major step for you people who lived through the Great Depression, who built this state of Tennessee."
State Rep. John DeBerry, sponsor of the legislation in the House, added that the legislation makes note of the fact older citizens have earned the right for relief from a portion of the states tax burden.
"Youve paid your dues," he said. "It makes common sense that senior citizens who have worked so many years should not continue to bear the burden of the younger folks."
Clarks office also is working to promote a new type of appraisal process for low-end properties that would go into effect during the 2001 reappraisal process.
"We have already commissioned and implemented a study of what we call modest neighborhoods," Bailey said. "Were looking at the various factors and conditions that affect property values in those neighborhoods that our mass computer appraisal process doesnt generally pick up."
The new system would make appraisal adjustments to account for problems such as crime, deterioration and high interest rates, which currently are not figured into the appraisal equation.
"The computer is blind. It doesnt feel and it has no idea of what is going on inside a neighborhood," Bailey said. "All it does is take a formula and apply it.
"What were doing is adding the human element back to the process."