Tennessee's property tax relief program for the elderly and disabled got a sweetener this year when Hamilton County commissioners voted to kick in matching money.
And the Hamilton County Trustee's Office says now is the time to apply for a break on 2017 property taxes. Tax bills were mailed weeks ago, and taxes are due by the last day of February.
"If they come in right now, there's not going to be a line and the quicker they'll get their money from the state," said Chandler Catore, a deputy clerk in the trustee's office.
Low-income people 65 and older, or people with disabilities, can qualify if their 2017 household incomes are under $29,180 and their homes are valued at no more than $27,000.
More about tax relief
Call the Hamilton County Trustee’s Office at 423- 893-3575.
If they apply and are approved, the state will pay around $187 toward their Hamilton County property taxes and a share of municipal property taxes if they live in a city or town.
Hamilton County will kick in half what the state pays, or around $93.
Military veterans who are 100 percent disabled may apply for a separate relief program. Those folks won't have to pay taxes on up to $175,000 of their home's value. Above that value, the state will pay right at $1,210 and the county will put up $605.
"We have about 3,500 people on the program this year. That extra little bit puts them over just the amount they needed to pay the whole bill, so a lot of elderly people owe zero," Catore said.
Chief Deputy Clerk Susan Bedwell said the county will forgo about $500,000 in revenue for the program this year.
Catore said clerks in the trustee's office can handle most of the application process over the phone. Property owners then must bring or mail documentation of their total incomes for the last full year - 2016, in this case - and copies of a photo ID. The whole package must be approved by the state.
The office won't estimate how long approval takes because it varies, but relief for disabled veterans takes longer because the paperwork has to go through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Applicants also will have to pay their 2017 tax bills up front, the clerks said, but those who are approved for the program will have the money refunded.
"Once they're in the program, it's more like a coupon," Catore said. Property owners will receive vouchers reflecting a lowered or zeroed-out tax liability that they can send in with their tax bills.
This program is different from a property tax freeze for seniors approved in 2007 by the Tennessee General Assembly. Under that program, qualifying seniors' property taxes don't change even if tax rates rise.
Hamilton County commissioners have chosen not to participate in that program, but the Chattanooga City Council voted this year to join.