325 senior tax credit forms are sent out

60,000 postcards to further spread word on program

May 16, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Howard County officials have mailed 325 applications to older homeowners who could be eligible for a new property tax credit, Finance Director Sharon Greisz said.

So far, 30 people have returned the three-page application, which must be submitted separately from applications for the Maryland Homeowners' Property Tax Credit, a similar program.

People ages 70 and older who own their homes, have an annual income of less than $68,450 and assets of less than $500,000 excluding the home may be eligible for the 25 percent property tax credit.

"Right now, we're just starting to get some," Greisz told a meeting of the Senior Tax Credit Task Force at a meeting last week. One application came back half filled out with no accompanying documentation, and Greisz said her office will offer to go to that person's home and help with the form's completion. "We'll fix it," she said.

She also plans to mail postcards to 60,000 homes in the county to further advertise the program. Volunteers at the county's Office on Aging have been trained to help applicants and answer questions.

The county wants to help people qualify, not obstruct them, Greisz said.

Robert Young, associate director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, told the group that his office takes a similar approach to applications for the state program. "If they make a mistake, we correct it," he said, noting that state officials have access to taxpayers' income tax forms. He said that once people successfully apply, they rarely have trouble in succeeding years.

Greisz said she had tried to create a single application for the state and county programs, but differences between the two were too great. The state program is for people of all ages with incomes of less than $60,000 a year, and assets of less than $200,000 excluding the home and formal retirement savings accounts. It covers the first $300,000 of a home's value. The county credit will kick in only after all other credits are applied, so anyone who qualifies for the state credit must sign up for it.

All county program applications for the tax year starting July 1 must be received by Sept. 1, according to instructions that accompany the applications.

Don Dunn, a committee member who favored the law as originally passed in October, criticized the changes the County Council made to it last month, saying the application process is now too complicated. The original law allowed a 25 percent property tax cut for anyone ages 70 and older with an income of less than $75,000. It also froze tax bills permanently until the house was sold - a provision judged unconstitutional by the Maryland attorney general's office.

"I found the tax form more oppressive than paying the tax. There was nothing user-friendly or simple about this process," he told the committee. "It's a sad replacement for a simple and senior-friendly law."

But Ted L. Meyerson, the task force chairman, said he viewed the county applications differently.

"Most pages are self-explanatory. I did not find it onerous."

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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