Seniors ready for new tax relief

County credit could save up to $1,500

May 13, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

When he mails off his ever-rising annual property tax payment, Ben Pritchett includes a letter.

Addressed to no one in particular, the letter states: "If you keep this up, pretty soon you will be taking care of me."

The 72-year-old retired Bethlehem Steel worker has seen no rise in his pension, a decrease in what his former employer pays for his health care insurance and an increase in the assessment of his Bel Air condominium.

"We all need tax relief," he said, scanning a roomful of residents who came to the McFaul Senior Center in Bel Air last week to gather information on the county's newly enacted Homeowners Property Tax Credit law.

"How poor do we have to get before we get it?" he said.

Those who are eligible for the credit, which was signed into law last week and takes effect July 1, could save residents as much as $1,500 annually on property taxes.

County Executive David R. Craig said the credit, which supplements a similar state program, was designed to help seniors and those living on fixed incomes stay in their homes. And it might be only the first crack at such tax relief.

"This is the first brush," Craig said. "If we find it is not broad enough, we can tweak it next year."

Harford joins Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties in providing homeowners a property tax credit, often referred to as "circuit-breaker relief." The proliferation of relief measures has accompanied the general rise in real estate values nationwide, according to tax policy analysts. As values rise, so do assessments, which have increased 20 percent statewide, and property tax bills follow suit.

The Harford credit is based on the assessed value of the applicant's home, up to $400,000 - $100,000 more than the state's threshold. Eligibility is determined by income: The local law allows a maximum of $60,000 in combined household income and a $200,000 maximum net worth, excluding the home.

"This is a huge issue for seniors," said John Louderback, legislative chairman for the county chapter of AARP. "We have many elderly living in heavily assessed property who are barely making it. They are looking for this kind of relief."

Eligible homeowners fill out a single form to apply for both the state and county credits. Forms are available at senior centers and libraries in the county, and on the county government's Web site ( The deduction could appear on the July tax bill or could be adjusted later.

Officials estimate that fewer than 2,000 homeowners are eligible for the county credit and that the impact on county revenues will be about $750,000.

Several seniors left the McFaul Senior Center with applications in hand. Pritchett perused the application and estimated his credit at about $300.

Victor Ferrara, 84, of Abingdon said he had come to Craig's presentation for one reason - "money."

"You better believe I am looking for tax relief," he said.

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