The Urban Legend Of Senior Tax Relief

Monday, June 17, 2019

For those who tout the generosity of the senior property tax relief program that's already in place locally, do the rest of us a big favor: Spell out all of the requirements, restrictions, difficulties, benefits and beneficiaries associated with the existing program. Tell us everything that a person has to do to get senior tax relief, and tell us how much relief they can expect.

Those who brag about the system make it sound like any interested senior citizens can get a free pass on taxes if they'll merely ask for help. But as far as I can tell, that just ain't so. The actual dollar amount of relief that the state and/or county provide is insultingly small compared to the tax bills, and it's probably not very helpful, considering the boasting that is done in public and the hoops and hurdles and limitations that are faced by hopeful taxpayers. In general, at best, the 'relief' might cover an anticipated tax increase for those lucky enough to qualify--and in this case, of course, being fortunate enough to qualify means being very unfortunate in the real economic world. 

Also, the last time I checked, this so-called tax relief is a one-time deal; it’s annual, not perennial. Every new year requires a new application, a new studying of the latest rules and regulations, new hoops to jump through and hurdles to struggle over. It really seems to be just a feel-good hide-behind program for the politicians, something to point at and boast about. Then when the most unfortunate try to take advantage of it, that's when they find out tax relief isn't all it's cracked up to be.

So, please, someone in authority give us a one page summary, a 500-words-or-less description of all the critical and mandatory points of the senior tax relief program. Spell it out in simple terms that even recent graduates of the county schools can understand. Fill in all the blanks concerning dollars and cents, property assessments and annual household income, ages, addresses, and any other details that apply to the situation. And then tell us exactly how many county residents currently benefit from the program, and what percentage of their property taxes the program really pays for them.

Then remind everyone that Hamilton County is just one government that’s extorting higher and higher property taxes from residents. The city of Chattanooga always says, "Me, too!" and takes nearly as large a bite of residents' livelihood.

I understand that in neighboring Catoosa County, property owners over 75 years old do not have to pay the school portion of county property taxes. (Here, the schools get 60 percent of Hamilton County's budget.) Evidently officials in Georgia have discovered that not many folks over 75 years old have children in the public schools. I've never had a kid in public school, but have still paid school taxes all my adult life.

It should be obvious why senior citizens aren't really cut much slack on property taxes. We're the most likely ones to have finally paid off a mortgage so that we really own our homes, and we're the ones most likely to consider our homes our last resort. So we're the ones who have the most to lose if we cannot pay whatever taxes are demanded of us -- we have nowhere else to go, once the county and the city take our homes because we simply can't pay the ever-increasing taxes on them.

Senior property tax relief? From what I've seen of the local setup, it's more an urban legend than any kind of honest relief.

Larry Cloud
Lookout Valley


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