Property tax break sought for elderly

February 04, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS -- Senior citizens deserve to have their property taxes capped, Del. Richard N. Dixon told a House subcommittee yesterday.

"These are people who have made a contribution to our society," the Carroll Democrat told the Ways and Means Committee's Housing and Social Issues Subcommittee.

At the request of a 74-year-old Woodbine resident, Mr. Dixon introduced a bill that would freeze property tax assessments for homeowners 65 and older. The resident, Charles E. Scott of the 2800 block of Gillis Falls Road, said that he and other senior citizens find it difficult to afford yearly increases in property taxes.

"I think it's a hardship on a lot of people," Mr. Scott said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Mr. Scott said he is a retired Montgomery County school maintenance worker who lives on $29,000 a year. He has lived in his Carroll home, which is on 1 3/4 acres, for 15 years.

Mr. Dixon's bill, House Bill 286, would prohibit increases in the assessed value of residential property owned and occupied by anyone 65 or older.

The elderly would continue to pay taxes, but their bills would not increase after they turned 65, he said.

"They have enough burdens," Mr. Dixon said, noting that many senior citizens live on fixed incomes.

Some elderly residents have sold their homes because they cannot afford to pay tax increases, he said.

The bill would not apply to a house that is not the elderly person's primary residence, if the property value increased because of a zoning change or if the property's use substantially changed.

Del. W. Ray Huff, D-Anne Arundel, a subcommittee member, said that some younger residents might take advantage of the tax break by putting their homes in their parents' names.

He also suggested that the bill require residents to live in their homes for a certain number of years to qualify for the tax break.

Subcommittee members asked Mr. Dixon why he had not included an income limit as a qualification for the freeze.

"There's a lot of people who are 65 who are worth millions of dollars," Mr. Huff said.

Mr. Dixon agreed and said he was willing to listen to suggestions for changing the bill.

Subcommittee Chairman Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore, said he would talk with the attorney general's office about the measure.

"I think it will pass constitutional muster. It just won't get by the local subdivisions," Mr. Davis said.

Twenty percent of owner-occupied residential property in Maryland is owned by people 65 and older, according to the state Department of Fiscal Services.

Assuming the property increased in value 1 percent per year, the state would lose $302,820 in property tax revenues in fiscal year 1996, $605,640 in fiscal 1997 and $908,640 in fiscal 1998 if the bill passed, Fiscal Services said.

Local governments would lose $4.3 million in tax revenues in fiscal 1996, $8.6 million in fiscal 1997 and $12.8 million in fiscal 1998.

The bill would apply to assessments for the tax year that begins July 1, 1995.

The subcommittee also heard testimony yesterday on a bill that would allow the elderly to pay their tax bills by working for local governments.

Senior citizens could do clerical and receptionist work and fill in for vacationing employees, said Del. Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery, the bill's sponsor and chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

George Shapiro of the American Association of Retired Persons testified in support of both bills.

Many AARP members can afford to pay increasing property taxes, but many other can't, he said.

"We're not looking for handouts," he said.

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