Tax relief proposed for seniors

Baltimore County measure would provide a $160 first-year credit on the property levy


Some senior citizens in Baltimore County would receive relief from rising property taxes under a proposal by two county lawmakers.

The proposal calls for a tax credit worth $160 per house in the first year for county residents 65 or older who qualify for the state's homeowners property tax credit program. The credit, which would be indexed to increase with inflation, would be added to whatever county residents receive under the state program, which is limited to people with a household income of $60,000 or less and a net worth of $200,000 or less.

County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who last week introduced legislation that would authorize the credit, said he has received calls from senior citizens worried about property taxes.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section gave an incorrect estimate of how many senior citizens would receive property tax credits next year under a proposal by two Baltimore County councilmen. The correct figure is about 6,900 seniors, according to the county auditor.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"I've heard many heart-rending stories about how some of them are on the verge of having to give up their homes" because of higher property taxes, said McIntire, a north county Republican. "If we can help out a little by reducing the tax, that's fine."

A year after real estate assessments soared an average of 20 percent throughout Maryland, officials in other Baltimore area jurisdictions also have proposed tax breaks for senior citizens.

Today, the Carroll County commissioners will vote on a proposal that in effect would expand the number of older people eligible for the state tax credit program, with the county picking up the extra cost. The credits would go to county residents 65 or older with household incomes of $50,000 or less and a net worth of $500,000 or less.

A Democratic candidate for Anne Arundel County executive has made a campaign promise to freeze property taxes for residents 65 or older, and Howard County agreed last year to allow some seniors to defer property tax increases until they sell their homes.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed into law last week changes to the state's property tax credit program. Under the new law, eligible homeowners will receive credits toward the first $300,000 of their home values, double the old limit. The new law also will preclude retirement savings from being considered as part of a person's net worth. The governor's office estimated an additional 4,000 people might qualify for tax credits because of the changes.

Last year, more than 46,000 property owners took part in the program, with the average participant receiving $857.

If adopted, the Baltimore County tax credit proposed by McIntire and Baltimore County Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, would increase each year in line with the Consumer Price Index.

County Auditor Brian J. Rowe estimates that 8,500 residents would receive the credit next year, at a cost to the county of $1.2 million.

A spokesman for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who is to unveil his budget for the next fiscal year tomorrow, said the county administration has not taken a position on the proposed tax credit.

"We're still considering all options, and we'll have an announcement on Wednesday," said spokesman Donald I. Mohler, on whether Smith will endorse a tax credit for seniors.

County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz said he would wait until the council reviews the budget next month before he considers any tax credits.

"How can we consider the loss of future revenues without understanding what the budgetary picture will be?" said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat. "But election year is a wonderful thing. We certainly come up with nice giveaways at election-year time."

Carroll County is likely to enact its homeowners' tax credit today. The commissioners say they want to allow older residents to age in homes that many of them bought decades ago. Those homes today are often surrounded by pricier subdivisions that have driven assessments higher than their owners can afford.

The commissioners would cap annual income at $50,000 and allow for a combined net worth of $500,000 or less, not counting the primary residence and retirement savings plans. The measure stipulates that the assessed value of the home may not exceed $300,000.

Seniors, who would have to apply for the credit, could save more than $1,000 annually on their county property taxes, said Ted Zaleski, Carroll's director of management and budget. The program would take effect July 1. It will take about a year for officials to fully understand the fiscal

Sun reporters Mary Gail Hare, Phillip McGowan and Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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