Seniors sign up for tax freeze

City Finance Officer Daisy Madison, center, discusses the state's senior tax freeze program with the Chattanooga City Council.

Chattanooga senior citizens are turning out in force to sign up for a freeze on their property taxes.

The city is holding workshops to help seniors apply for the freeze the city council adopted along with the 2017-18 budget earlier this year. Chattanoogans aged 65 and older whose incomes are less than $38,720 and who own and live in their homes are eligible to sign up. Those who qualify won't see their property taxes increase even if tax rates rise.

"That means with inflation I won't have to worry every time the cost of living goes up," said Eddie Scott, a retired Hamilton County teacher and former Army medic who lives in the Highway 58 area.

Scott, 70, was standing in a line of people that stretched out the door and down the outside of the Eastgate Senior Center on Thursday, waiting to pick up applications or seek help in applying for the tax break.

Inside, 100 or so chairs were nearly filled with people filling out applications or waiting for a chance to talk to helpers from the city treasurer's office at tables in the front of the room.

If you go

What: Help applying for Chattanooga property tax freezeWho: Low-income senior homeownersWhen: noon-2 p.m. WednesdayWhere: John A. Patten YFD Center, 3202 Kellys Ferry RoadMore info: City Treasurer’s Office, 423-643-7262 or online at bit.ly/SrTaxFrzChattanooga

Theresa Lee with the treasurer's office, who was managing the event, said the city employees were astonished at the turnout there and at an earlier session held Oct. 30 at the North River Senior Center in Hixson.

On both days, more than 300 people showed up and stood in line to learn more about the freeze.

"We expected maybe 30," Lee said. "The city is really excited about being able to provide the opportunity for these seniors."

Jerome Martin, facilities manager for the Eastgate Senior Center, roamed among the chairs, greeting people and helping out. He said people were lined up and waiting for the 10 a.m. event when the center's doors opened at 8:30.

"As you can see from the number of people who came, there is a need for it," Martin said. "People are coming in to have it actually happen for them."

A third tax-freeze help event is set for noon to 2 p.m. Monday at the John A. Patten Youth and Family Development Center on Kellys Ferry Road, and Lee said there will be another one soon in Avondale but the date and time haven't been set.

"And if we need more we will schedule more," she said.

The freeze was authorized by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2007 but this is its local debut. It will apply to 2017-18 taxes.

To qualify, seniors must provide proof of age, residency and income, including a copy of the most recent income tax return or, for those who don't file tax returns, an affidavit saying so. Homeowners must reapply every year, Lee said, since people's incomes may change.

Applications for tax relief programs are available online or at the treasurer's office, 101 E. 10th St. The deadline to apply is April 5, and it generally takes two to three weeks to process an application, Lee said.

Some low-income and disabled seniors also might qualify for a separate state property tax relief program to which Hamilton County government contributes. 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. The state will pay about $187 of their property taxes and the county will pay half that, or about $93.

Military veterans who are 100 percent disabled 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.

For more information on the county/state tax relief program, call the Hamilton County Trustee's Office at 423-893-3575.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.