Early Christmas gift [Editorial]

The Aegis

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman gave some county residents an early Christmas last Friday when he signed into law Bill 17-021, passed by the County Council earlier the same week, which grants a 20 percent property tax credit to retired military veterans age 65 and older and senior citizens who have lived in the same house for 40 years.

The gift won’t actually come until property taxes are due starting with the next county fiscal year on July 1; however, it should be welcome for those who benefit.

The county administration estimates the average credit will be $550 and the revenue loss will be approximately $1.9 million. Based upon those estimates, some 3,400 homeowners could benefit.

The new tax credit is based on state authorizing legislation passed in 2016. The Harford credit will be capped at $400,000 per assessed value for a single property. It will also have a five-year sunset provision, although most supporters believe any such restraints will eventually come off in Annapolis.

The idea behind this credit is to help senior citizens age in place and not be forced out of their homes by rising property taxes as their properties appreciate in value, while their incomes are typically fixed, or at least not rising as much. In fact, Howard County, which already has a similar credit on the books, officially calls it an “aging in place credit,” according to a recent report in the Howard County Times, one of our sister publications.

A house in Harford County with an assessed value of $400,000 carries a county tax bill between $3,500 and $4,100, depending if the property is in unincorporated parts of the county or with a municipality: Aberdeen Bel Air and Havre de Grace. Those latter properties have the lower bills, because non-municipal property is subject to a “differential” tax to pay for highway operations and maintenance.

Homeowners who think they are eligible for the new credit will have to apply for it. The county should have procedures in place in plenty of time so nobody who may be eligible misses out, a spokesperson said.

There was some criticism from Councilman Mike Perrone about the senior citizen part of the credit, such as rewarding people just because they lived in the same home 40 years. But Councilman Jim McMahan, who signed on as a co-sponsor, pointed out a person who has been around in the same place 40 years has probably volunteered in some capacity or been involved with organizations that do beneficial things for the community. There’s also a report that legislators will consider changing this requirement to 40 years in the same county, not the same house, when the Maryland General Assembly convenes next month.

Perrone also pointed out that the new tax credit will come at someone’s expense, namely those who pay their taxes early to take advantage of a 1 percent discount during July or .5 percent in August. Those will be ended effective July 1, 2019, the intent being to make the senior and veterans credit revenue neutral.

If you have been getting a $4,000 tax bill and paying it in July, your discount amounts to $40. If you are a qualifying senior citizen with the same tax bill, the new credit will net you $760, assuming you have been getting the early discount, which most seniors tend to do.

The new credit is not perfect, several council members who voted for it conceded, but it recognizes the contributions of both groups it benefits, as well as the sacrifices veterans make for our country and our communities.

We would say the tax credit is a gift worth giving, and receiving.

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