Bill would freeze seniors' property taxes

February 11, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- Many senior citizens are struggling to keep up with fuel, food and medication costs while living on a fixed income.

Property taxes that continue to rise only add to that burden, according to Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who has suggested a plan to essentially freeze property taxes for seniors and defer payment of the increases until after their death.

The Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly voted Wednesday to sponsor the bill, which would allow counties to help senior citizens maintain a better quality of life by halting increases in property taxes for those 65 and older.

The program would be voluntary, and those who participate would defer paying the increases in property taxes until after their death or the death of their spouse.


After the homeowner's death, the county would place a tax lien on the property to recoup the lost tax revenue, plus 3 percent interest. That money would be paid back to the county either through the sale of the house or through other means, Shank said.

"So, the county will still get paid the property taxes, but the advantage to the bill is that senior citizens who are living on fixed income ... struggling to make ends meet and pay their property taxes ... could live more comfortably," he said.

Susan MacDonald, executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging, said the program could help senior citizens stay in their homes.

"So, certainly there's a lot of pressure on older persons on fixed income to keep up with the rising costs of just about everything," MacDonald said.

Those who apply would need to be in good financial standing, Shank said, meaning they cannot be in bankruptcy or foreclosure.

MacDonald said seniors often have paid off all or the majority of their mortgages and need only to pay their property taxes. Those bills, she said, can bring "sticker shock," and property assessments rise as the value of their homes declines.

MacDonald said officials estimate Washington County is home to 28,000 to 30,000 senior citizens. She said those who are 85 and older are the fastest-growing age group nationwide.

MacDonald said she has not heard of senior citizens in Washington County being foreclosed upon because they cannot pay their property taxes, but she said any effort to help seniors is worthwhile.

Shank said counties could choose not to participate in the program. Those counties that do would decide many of the participant's qualifications.

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