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Senior citizen issues aired at Washington County legislative forum

October 07, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Senior citizens at a legislative forum on Monday lobbied for tax relief, adequate transportation and a permanent Washington County senior center.

The forum gave about 70 local residents a chance to hear directly from their state legislators about issues affecting senior citizens.

The forum was sponsored by the local chapter of National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) Association, the Washington County Commission on Aging and other members of the Washington County Senior Coalition.

Six of the eight members of Washington County's delegation to the General Assembly listened to the coalition's priorities for the next legislative session.

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Commission on Aging Executive Director Susan J. MacDonald said the forum went smoothly, and plenty of good questions and answers were shared.

The forum was at Girls Inc. on Washington Avenue in Hagerstown, where a temporary senior center opened a month ago.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said it's amazing that there's no permanent senior center in Washington County.

Garrett and Allegany counties each have several, he said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, suggested Smithsburg, Boonsboro and Hancock as good places for senior centers.

MacDonald said about 20 percent of Washington County's population is older than 60, a percentage expected to double in 15 years.

One of the coalition's priorities is increasing a tax exemption for senior citizens.

The exemption is $1,000 for taxpayers 65 and older, but rose to $3,200 for people the same age claimed as dependents, a NARFE fact sheet says.

The gap costs each senior citizen taxpayer about $175 in state and local income tax, the fact sheet says.

Delegation members said they'd like a uniform exemption, but in the state's tight fiscal straits, calls for more spending or less revenue are unlikely to succeed.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said that makes it tough for older people whose incomes are fixed while their essential expenses rise.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., an independent representing Frederick and Washington counties, said the coalition's suggestion to offset the cost of long-term-care insurance with a $250 tax credit might not help enough.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, suggested a system like New York's, with state employees and other residents in a pool for long-term health insurance.

Shank said tax-credit questions are better addressed to county officials, who already can make adjustments.

Instead, though, the county should lower its property tax rate to offset rising assessments, he said. The constant yield rate, as it's known, keeps tax revenue steady year to year.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, agreed with the coalition's focus on transportation as part of a good quality of life for senior citizens.

Responding to a question about a possible higher gas tax or toll booths for Interstate 81 to pay for transportation projects, Munson said the delegation doesn't like either idea.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, didn't attend the forum. Donoghue sent a representative.

Washington County senior issues

A coalition of senior citizen groups on Monday presented four legislative priorities:

o A permanent senior center for the county

o A higher income tax exemption for senior citizen taxpayers, matching the one for senior citizen dependents

o Adequate transportation

o A long-term care insurance income-tax deduction

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