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Commission explores relief from high taxes

August 12, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - County officials rolled up their sleeves Thursday and began looking for ways to give local residents relief from property tax increases that have doubled some tax bills.

About 30 residents appeared before the Jefferson County Commission two weeks ago to complain about high tax bills, and about a dozen people appeared before the commission Thursday afternoon to hear commission members explore methods of tax relief.

Commission President Rusty Morgan has said he would like to see the issue examined closely and added that any relief largely would have to come from the state level.

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The commission has not raised property taxes in 10 years, and many of the tax increases are being driven by an increase in the value of homes in the rapidly growing Eastern Panhandle, Morgan said.

Much of the concern is how the rising taxes are affecting senior citizens on fixed incomes.

Morgan said one possible solution is increasing the amount of the homestead exemption, a tax break given to senior property owners.

The homestead exemption allows those property owners to take $20,000 off the valuation of their property, Morgan said.

Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, discussed with the commission Thursday the possibility of increasing the homestead exemption to $50,000, although Morgan said that probably will not be enough given how home values have skyrocketed.

Yoder and the commissioners also said there is opposition in other parts of the state to increasing the homestead exemption because it will cut tax revenue to county governments in those areas.

There are some bills pending in the Legislature to give tax relief, Commissioner Dale Manuel said. One bill requires that a 25 percent or more tax assessment increase be phased in to taxpayers over five years.

Another idea floated Thursday was freezing the amount of taxes homeowners pay when they reach 65.

Residents at Thursday's meeting not only complained about their tax bills, but the price of houses and how it is becoming impossible to afford a house in the county.

"We like a reasonable increase," Charles Town resident Archie Smith said of his tax bill. "It's outrageous what we're paying."

Commissioner Jane Tabb said she is troubled by the number of tax breaks that are given to lure businesses to the state. It then falls on individual taxpayers to make up the difference, Tabb said.

"It's always been my opinion that the whole state tax code needs to be rewritten," Tabb said.

Morgan said the commission will get in touch with state officials to determine the best way to pursue tax relief. Morgan said the commission also will make its concerns known to Gov. Joe Manchin.

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