With the possibility of a property tax rate increase looming, some in Hamilton County are speaking out about the impact rising taxes can have on those living on a fixed income.
Hamilton County Commissioner David Sharpe plans on proposing a solution to help alleviate some of the burden on the county's senior citizens, and a senior tax relief program already exists thanks to the state of Tennessee.
Here are five things you need to know about Hamilton County's tax relief program.
' For more information on the city of Chattanooga's programs, call the city treasurer's office at 423-643-7262 or visit www.chattanooga.gov. ' For more information on Hamilton County's tax relief programs, call the county's trustee's office at 423-209-7799 or visit http://www.hamiltontn.gov/trustee/.
1. Residents at least age 65 with a household income of $29,200 or less are eligible to apply.
Income is verified by the state and includes Social Security, retirement and any other forms of income, said Bill Hullander of the county trustee's office, which manages the program. The county currently matches 50% of what the state gives to property owners who apply for relief.
2. About 3,600 senior citizens already participate in the program.
Hullander said he believes the county has reached about 95% of eligible participants. The average income for senior citizens in Hamilton County is about $40,000 a year, according to the county. Hullander believes there are about 700 more citizens who are not eligible to participate in the program, but fall at or under the average household income for those ages 65 and older.
3. The program costs the county about $360,000 a year.
Since the state initially issues reimbursement for seniors' property taxes, Hamilton County matches another 50%. In some years, the county has foregone up to $500,000 in revenue. If the county decided to match the state's portion completely, it would cost the county just about $1 million, Hullander said.
4. Applications from potential participants are collected once a year.
Most property owners receive a property tax statement or bill in October each year. For those still paying a mortgage, their taxes are typically factored into monthly payments. Senior citizens who are eligible for the tax relief program can apply once they receive their annual bill. Most of the application can be handled over the phone. Property owners then must bring or mail documentation of their total incomes for the last full year and copies of a photo ID to the trustee's office.
Once approved for the program, property owners receive vouchers reflecting a lowered or zeroed-out tax liability that they can send in with their tax bills.
5. An additional program exists for disabled veterans.
Military veterans who are 100 percent disabled are eligible for a separate relief program. Veterans don't have to pay taxes on up to $175,000 of their home's value. Above that, the state will pay a portion and the county will match 50% of what the state pays.
The city of Chattanooga also offers tax relief programs for seniors, full disabled veterans and veterans' surviving spouses.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.