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W.Va. lawmakers propose tax relief

December 19, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Local state lawmakers are looking at a number of ways to give residents possible relief from skyrocketing property tax bills.

Earlier this year, local residents complained to county officials about their property tax bills, some of which had increased by 100 percent.

Much of the tax increases are being driven by the increase in the value of homes in the Eastern Panhandle and some residents and officials are concerned how the taxes are affecting people on fixed incomes.

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Jefferson County Commission President Rusty Morgan said officials have discussed changing the homestead exemption to get relief for taxpayers.

Taxpayers 65 and older are eligible for a $20,000 reduction in the valuation of their homes. The valuation is used to determine the amount of tax a homeowner pays.

But the exemption gives little benefit to taxpayers given the high values of homes in the area, Morgan said.

Morgan did not mention any specific numbers for a new exemption.

"Fifty thousand dollars has been thrown out as a quick fix," Morgan said.

But Morgan said he thinks that more might need to be done to the homestead exemption other than increasing it.

Perhaps first-time home buyers or homeowners on a certain income should be eligible for a homestead exemption, too, Morgan said.

State Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, said there are several reasons why increasing the homestead exemption would not be popular.

One reason is that there could be opposition from increasing the exemption in other parts of the state where property values are much lower, Yoder said. If the homestead exemption is increased to $50,000, it could wipe out large portions of tax revenues to counties where property values are lower, Yoder said.

"The problem is, people in other parts of the state view us as being rich up here and they want us to pay that money," Yoder said.

Yoder said he thinks a more workable solution might be placing caps on how much property taxes can increase. Yoder is working on a proposal that would give property owners a lifetime deferment on any additional taxes as long as they are 65 years old and have lived here at least five years.

Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson, said he does not think a tax deferment will work and instead supports a homestead exemption that is tied to the value of a home.

Tabb gave an example of a home that is valued at $200,000 but the next year is reassessed at $250,000.

Perhaps half of that increase - $25,000 - could be added to the homestead exemption for a total exemption of $45,000, Tabb said.

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley-Jefferson, said he likes the idea of capping the amount of tax hikes, although he wants to make sure the caps are not being given to "retired millionaires."

Unger said he would want provisions that they only go to certain people, like those on fixed incomes.

The upcoming session of the Legislature in Charleston, W.Va., starts Jan. 11.

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