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Property tax freeze proposal gets chilly reception from Sullivan County commissioners

January 7th, 2008 12:00 am by J. H. Osborne

Property tax freeze proposal gets chilly reception from Sullivan County commissioners



BLOUNTVILLE — A proposal to “freeze” Sullivan County property taxes for property owners over age 65 with incomes of $28,750 per year or less is getting a chilly reception, so far, from Sullivan County commissioners.


In November 2006, voters statewide approved a constitutional amendment to pave the way for a state law making such tax breaks an option at the local level.


To become effective in Sullivan County, for example, the tax freeze program must be authorized by the Sullivan County Commission.


Last week, County Commissioner John McKamey submitted a proposal to bring about that authorization.


McKamey’s proposal has gone before two of the County Commission’s three primary committees, and each group voted “no action” on the issue.


It’s not outright rejection, but it theoretically means two-thirds of the 24-member commission have had a chance to look at the proposal — and, other than McKamey, haven’t thrown any real support behind it.


McKamey said he plans to leave the issue on “first reading” this month, meaning it won’t likely come for a vote by the full commission until Feb. 19. It would need 13 “yes” votes at that point to gain commission approval.


It could next be discussed when the commission’s Budget Committee meets at 7 p.m. Thursday.


Left on first reading, it will go before all three committees again next month.


McKamey said when Sullivan County voters went to the polls in November 2006, more than 8 in 10 voted in favor of the constitutional amendment to authorize the law.


Other than a couple of comments from Chairman Sam Jones — he’s had several telephone calls about the issue since McKamey introduced it last week and the Kingsport Times-News ran an editorial on the issue Sunday — the Administrative Committee didn’t discuss the issue.


Members of the Executive Committee, on which McKamey serves, did discuss the proposal.


Although several members spoke in favor of the concept, just as many questioned the details.


Commissioner Linda Brittenham said some senior citizens who would benefit from the law if it is adopted here have told her they’re concerned about “passing” the tax bill to the next generation.


Accounts and Budgets Director Larry Bailey said preliminary projections printed by a statewide organization for county officials showed adoption of the law could cost Sullivan County roughly $250,000 to $270,000.


On Monday, Bailey told the Times-News it is impossible to put an exact dollar amount on how much a tax freeze would cost unless there is specific tax increase being talked about — the current revenue stream wouldn’t be changed, only future tax increases wouldn’t be added to the tax bills of eligible property owners.


The $250,000 to $270,000 figure is an estimate based partially on current state funding, to Sullivan County, for the state’s property tax rebate program for the elderly and disabled, Bailey said.


And if the county implements the property tax freeze program, it would incur some administrative costs — at least one new employee to assist with record keeping — Bailey said.


According to information McKamey distributed, if Sullivan County adopts the program:


•The tax freeze program is not intended to displace other forms of tax relief for the elderly and disabled, such as the state’s existing property tax rebate program.


•To qualify for the tax freeze, the property owner must file an application each year with the county trustee’s office.


•The property on which taxes will be frozen must be owned by the applicant and used as their principal place of residence.


•The applicant must be 65 years of age or older by the end of the year in which the application is filed.


•The applicant must have an income, from all sources, that does not exceed the county income limit established for that tax year.


•Each year, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office will calculate the income limit for each county using a formula outlined in the “Property Tax Freeze Act.”


•For tax year 2007, the income limit for Sullivan County is $28,750 (compared to $28,140 for Washington County, $24,000 for Hawkins County, $24,000 for Greene County, $24,000 for Hancock County, $24,000 for Carter County, and $24,000 for Johnson County).


•In determining eligibility based on total income, income of all owners of the property will be combined.


•If improvements are made to the property in question, the base tax amount would increase to reflect the new value.



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