Tax Relief Program
For Elderly Under
Review By Budget
& Finance Comm.
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
No matter what their vote, for or against the property tax increase, county commissioners are hearing from Greene County's citizens.
Members of the Greene County Budget & Finance Committee, meeting on Thursday afternoon, discussed what reaction they have received and how they now feel about the votes they made at the August session of the Greene County Commission.
In discussion at the meeting, Commissioner Robert Bird stood strongly behind his vote against the 20-cent increase
Commissioners Hilton Seay and M.C. Rollins just as strongly defended their votes in favor of the increase.
As members of the Budget & Finance Committee, both Rollins and Seay, along with fellow members Bird and Phil King. supported a unanimous committee recommendation to the full County Commission against any tax increase.
In the commission meeting, Bird and King voted in opposition to any property tax increse. Seay and Rollins voted for the increase.
"I'm hearing a whole lot of comments out in the public," Bird said. "They're very angry about the property tax [increase]. I've gotten the most calls I've ever had."
Bird and Seay agreed that many have told them that they will not re-elect the commissioners who voted for the increase.
"They're complimentary to me for voting [against the increase] and for standing up for them," Bird added.
"They are very angry, saying that the commissioners ignored their vote on the Wheel Tax and came back and said, 'Well, we'll stick it to you another way.'"
Seay, however, said that he, too, has been complimented by many for his vote in favor of the 20-cent increase.
He disagreed that there was any connection between the Wheel Tax referendum and the property tax increase.
(The wheel tax referendum on the Aug. 2 ballot asked voters if the county should double the tax from $20 to $40, with the extra $20 going to aid local education.
(The wheel tax referendum was voted down by the public by a considerable majority.
(In the property tax increase, 15 of the 20 cents went to aid education and allow for pay raises for non-certified employees in the county school system.
(The remaining 5 cents provided 2 percent raises for other county employees, exempting elected officials, and aided the Greene County Highway Department's fund balance, or savings.)
Some who have called him thanking him for voting for the increase have also said that they did not vote in favor of the wheel tax increase, Seay noted.
As for those who say they will not elect him again, he said his response remains the same as it has always been, "I've got a better job waiting."
"That doesn't bother me a bit," he added. "I have been surprised at the positive responses that I've had.
"I'm not apologizing to anybody for my vote, and I don't intend to apologize to anybody for my vote.
"I voted the way that I felt was right and was the right thing for our constituents, even though they didn't agree with it."
Seay emphasized the importance of education and the recent focus placed on education in the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.
"I feel like, down the road, Greene County will prosper from what the commission did during our last meeting," he concluded.
Commissioner Rollins that he has also received numerous thanks for his vote in favor of the increase.
Going into the meeting, he said he had been undecided, but planned to vote for a 13-cent increase that would just cover the county school system's deficit.
"That changed," he said simply.
The need for county employees to have a pay raise and for additional funds to be designated for the Highway Department was what changed his plans and prompted him to vote for the 20-cent increase, he said.
In response to this discussion, Seay requested that County Trustee Dan Walker address the committee about tax relief and the possibility of tax freezes for the elderly.
For the past several years, the county has participated in the tax relief program and provided a local match, Walker reminded the committee.
The tax relief program essentially provides a discount to qualifying individuals on their property taxes in the form of reimbursements.
However, the Commission voted three years ago to not participate in the tax freeze program, which would have actually "frozen" taxes for qualifying citizens at a set rate.
The huge majority of counties across the state voted in a like manner to not participate in this program, he added.
The trustee noted many requirements involved in administering the tax freeze program, in addition to the cost to the county.
"I think, overall, we'd be better off staying where we're at," he advised.
However, he noted that the state has contacted him concerning their portion of the tax relief program.
Walker explained the following:
A program of the Tennessee Comptroller's Office Division of Property Assessment makes property tax relief available for those falling under one of three main categories:
* those 65 years or older who live in a household that had an income of $26,830 or less in the calendar year 2011;
* those of any age who are 100 percent disabled, are drawing Social Security Disability, and live in a household with an income of $26,830 or less in the calendar year 2011; or,
* veterans who are 100 percent disabled, regardless of their age or income.
For those who qualify for property tax relief under the first two categories, the state will now be sending a $117 reimbursement check the first year, as compared to the $94 check sent prior to the tax increase.
This represents a 13 percent increase that is proportional to the 13 percent tax increase approved by the Commission, Walker explained.
The second year that a qualifying individual goes to pay his or her property taxes, officials in the Trustee's Office will automatically deduct the state's reimbursement amount from the amount owed.
In addition, the trustee said, in the second year and beyond, the county will add a $35 match to the state's reimbursement for those who qualify based on age and income.
The local match has also increased by 13 percent (from $28 last year) because it is based on 30 percent of the state's reimbursement, Walker explained.
Currently, he said, about 1,800 local citizens participate in the tax relief program.
Of those, about 1,200 qualify for the local match, which will equal about a $42,000 revenue loss out of the county property tax revenues (1,200 times $35), he said.
Seay requested that Walker provide this explanation to the full County Commission during the commission's Sept. 17 meeting.