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Council delays move to change tax credit

The Baltimore Sun

A majority of Howard County Council members agreed yesterday to delay any move to change a new property tax credit for homeowners ages 70 or older until at least next year, when more information on first-year results is available.

The council members did not vote, but they discussed the issue at an administrative meeting. Three members of a citizens committee that has been studying the program for nearly a year presented the final report, along with two dissenting opinions.

Ted L. Meyerson, the chairman, said the majority felt it would be better to let the program continue unchanged for now but continue the committee so it can examine results next year. "There's still a lot we don't know," Meyerson said.

Leaving the program alone also would help administratively, he said. "If the [program] applications don't change, they can go out in January," Meyerson said.

Council members Courtney Watson, Greg Fox and Mary Kay Sigaty said they are inclined to follow the majority recommendations.

Sigaty, a west Columbia Democrat, said she will study the dissenting opinions but is satisfied to wait. "In another year, we'll have some sense about whether we hit the people who need the benefit," she said. "I believe in data-driven decision-making."

Committee members Don Dunn and Frank Chase said they believe the program is unfair because the lowest-income seniors often get their entire tax cut from the state program, while higher-income older homeowners who qualify get a county credit in addition to a state credit. Under the law, if the state credit exceeds the 25 percent the county is offering, there is no added county tax cut.

"We don't need to wait another year to find out what we know now," Dunn said.

Meyerson said that on average, a low-income senior with a $2,500 county tax bill now gets a 95 percent state credit, reducing the bill to about $144.

Under the law, Howard County offers senior homeowners a 25 percent property tax cut each year, if their household incomes are less than $68,450 and their assets are less than $500,000, excluding their homes. All applicants also must apply for state credits available to lower-income homeowners.

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