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Jefferson County supports tax relief bill

January 26, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday agreed to support a bill in the state Legislature that would protect senior citizens from spiraling property taxes, although one commissioner said he would like to see relief for all taxpayers.

The commission agreed to support Senate Bill 53 at the urging of Commissioner Jim Surkamp.

Jefferson County residents upset about letters that have been sent to them notifying them of dramatic increases in assessments for their property tax bills have been flooding county government offices with phone calls.

County residents have complained about increased assessments that they say will increase their taxes by hundreds of dollars, and some fear they will have trouble paying the money.

Under Senate Bill 53, any property tax increases would be deferred for people 65 years old and older, said Sen. John Unger, a sponsor of the bill.

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In the case of married people, the deferment would transfer to the surviving spouse, said Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson.

Once the surviving spouse dies, taxes from increases would be recouped from the sale of the house or when it is transferred to someone, Unger said in a phone interview Thursday.

The bill was introduced Jan. 10, and was referred to the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees, Unger said.

Commissioner Dale Manuel said he supports Senate Bill 53, but said he thinks it is important to get tax relief for everyone, especially young people starting families.

Manuel said he supports a proposal in the Legislature that would cap annual assessment increases at 5 percent.

"I think Dale's correct," Commissioner Rusty Morgan said. "We need help across the spectrum."

County residents have complained that the increase in assessments comes at a time when they already are frustrated over higher medical fees and other increasing costs.

"I'm hearing all sorts of horror stories," Unger said.

Although the commission next month will offer property owners the opportunity to have their tax bills reviewed, Surkamp emphasized Thursday that the Jefferson County Assessor's Office has a "presumption" of correctness in how it calculates assessment increases.

"It is a limited review under the law," Commission President Frances Morgan said.

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