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Photo is Mark Siedlecki, candidate for Hamilton County Assessor of Property.
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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 2/4/16. Marty Haynes, a candidate for Assessor of Property, speaks during the Downtown Council of the Chamber of Commerce's candidate forum at Puckett's restaurant in downtown Chattanooga on Thursday, February 4, 2016.

Mark Siedlecki, the Democratic candidate in the Hamilton County Assessor of Property race, has brought talk of a property tax freeze for seniors back into the realm of public discussion.

In November 2006, state residents voted overwhelmingly to amend the Tennessee Constitution so the Legislature could authorize counties and municipalities to freeze property taxes for taxpayers aged 65 or older. In 2007, the Tennessee General Assembly approved an authorization act that included income limits, which vary by county.

Hamilton County is not among the 23 Tennessee counties that have adopted the program. If it had, seniors making less than $38,720 a year could qualify.

"It is morally wrong to work your whole life only to be forced from your home due to a tax increase or nearby rising property values," Siedlecki said in a statement. "Our county commission has had almost a decade to enact this important legislation, and they have done nothing."

While any local elected official might support or oppose a senior tax freeze, the Hamilton County Commission is the only body that can do anything about it.

Commissioner Marty Haynes, who is also the Republican candidate in the property assessor race, said all residents — not just seniors — have benefited from a freeze on property tax rates since the county's last increase in 2007.

The commission has stated many times it will consider a senior tax freeze if a tax increase is proposed, Haynes said.

Tax rates are only a part of the equation, though. The senior tax freeze program also protects against higher tax payments if property values increase.

County Trustee Bill Hullander, who was a county commissioner when the program was discussed in 2007, said there were concerns that freezing taxes for seniors would shift the tax burden to others, including young people. Few seniors attended public meetings to show their support, he said.

Property Assessor Bill Bennett said it would be hard to estimate the program's impact on tax revenues, considering the qualifying income limitations. Records show that Hamilton County expected to receive $106 million in real property tax revenues in 2015.

Neighboring Bradley County adopted the senior tax freeze, which cost it less than two-tenths of 1 percent of its real property tax revenues in 2015, records show.

Out of $31 million in property tax revenues, the program amounted to a $55,000 loss, Assessor Stanley Thompson said.

"Our seniors have been carrying the load for decades, and I saw the program as a way to lighten their burden in their golden years," said Commissioner Mark Hall, who sponsored the measure when it was adopted by Bradley County in 2007.

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at pleach@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

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