Dave Wick, new Executive Director of the Lake George Park Commission, thanks Warren County supervisors at their April 20 board meeting for their support and cooperation during the last 19 years as his role as the director of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District. The board meeting drew a fair crowd, including people who offered opinions on expanding the county property tax exemption for the aged.
Low-income seniors In Warren County will soon get an expanded opportunity to earn a break on their property taxes, because of a decision reached April 20 by county leaders.
Beginning in 2013, those homeowners earning up to $24,000 in total income will become eligible for a 50 percent reduction in county taxes, and those earning from $24,001 to $32,400 may seek discounts of 45 percent to 5 percent, based on a sliding scale.
The exemption change prompted a length debate at the April 20 county Board of Supervisors meeting.
The county leaders had been considering a $29,000 threshold that Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Stec had proposed, but the figure was lowered after some contended the change would shift the tax burden too radically. The prior threshold, in place since 2005, was $18,000, with a sliding scale of percentage discounts available to those earning up to $23,700 per year.
Former Bolton Supervisor Deanne Rehm, longtime assessor for the town of Lake Luzerne, said the expansion of the exemption would likely spread to town and school district taxes — as other taxing authorities followed suit — amplifying the shift of taxes to others who also were financially stressed. She estimated that the higher threshold would prompt a $141,300 loss in county tax revenue that would shift to other taxpayers.
“When you grant benefits, someone else has to pick up the bill,” she said.
Supervisors listened to her point, and voted to support the amendment of Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino to trim the qualification threshold to $24,000.
Some county supervisors and several citizens questioned whether the expanded income threshold would allow wealthy retirees to qualify.
Queensbury resident John Hodgkins warned that some wealthy people might cash in at the expense of those working hard, struggling to pay their bills.
“The state’s senior tax exemption is not designed to help the truly needy,” he said, noting that seniors owning a $1 million home could qualify if they had no reportable income. “Their taxes would be shifted to the middle-aged and young families who are already facing financial stresses.”
But in computing income for the exemption, state law mandates that all Social Security payments, investment income and dividends, earnings from rentals or businesses, income from trusts, estates, annuities, and pension plans be counted. The law also dictates that income from Workers’ Compensation, disability income is counted, as are IRA earnings and contributions, and a spouse’s earnings. Assets that produce no current income, however, are not factored in.
Queensbury resident Sean Garvey suggested that instead of liberalizing exemptions for a few, county supervisors ought to concentrate on curbing tax increases.
“It’s time to stop increasing taxes, stop all new capital spending, and reduce the size of government,” he said.
Stec observed, however, that the estimated $40,000 tax shift at the $24,000 threshold would likely mean the average homeowner would have to pay merely $2 or so more annually to help out those with meager income.
Stec also said that if the increased exemption kept just a few people in their homes rather than moving into Countryside Adult Home — or keep them from enrolling in a welfare program, the change would far more than pay for itself.
“We’ll be able to find $40,000 in the budget to help low-income seniors,” he said. “This is not only the right thing to do, but it has relatively small impact, and it may pay for itself in other avoided costs.”
All county supervisors except three — Matt Sokol and David Strainer of Queensbury and Evelyn Wood of Thurman — voted for the amended exemption change.