July 16--HAMPTON -- Celestine Monroe knows many of her friends who are senior citizens can barely afford the food, let alone any extravagance people dream about after retiring.
So when the City Council agreed in May to eliminate an option for senior citizens to be exempt from paying real estate taxes, she was up upset.
"I'm not going to be cute about it ... I was mad," Monroe said. "It's unfair to seniors who worked hard to pay for their homes, and then to think many of them are on Social Security...."
The city still allows eligible residents to either defer the tax or freeze the rate they pay, but the change has left many of the 2,100 home owners eligible for tax relief with questions.
Councilman Donnie Tuck and Mary Joyner, a tax management specialist with the Commissioner of Revenue, met with about 70 people at the Queen Street North Worship Center Tuesday afternoon to answer questions about the changes.
City Council members have repeatedly said that the General Assembly's 2011 decision to exempt certain disabled veterans and their surviving spouses from paying real estate taxes has had a disproportionate effect on Hampton because the city is home to so many veterans.
Tuesday afternoon, Tuck said the city would collect close to $3 million more in real estate taxes this fiscal year if that exemption for veterans didn't exist.
"I voted for it, and I rarely vote for a tax raise," Tuck said of removing the senior citizen exemption. "But if we didn't do it then we'd be looking at putting that increase on everyone else ... it's not something that was done in the dark. We talked about this a year ago."
Beginning July 1, the city will place a lien on properties where the owner chooses the deferral option until the property sells or within a year after the last eligible residents of the property dies.
Residents choosing to freeze their tax liability establish a maximum amount of what they pay for property taxes. Those bills are still due with the city's regular billing cycle.
Residents deferring taxes do not pay property taxes until the property is sold or the title is transferred without penalty to the property owner or the owner dies. The deferral is considered a lien on the property.
In July 2012, Newport News began allowing elderly and disabled residents who meet specific requirements to defer their property taxes.
To qualify for the tax relief, residents must be 65 or permanently disabled before Dec. 31, 2013. They must own and occupy their dwelling and have a household income of $50,000 or less from everyone occupying the house. The combined assets of everyone in the home must not exceed $200,000, excluding the value of the home and as much as 10 acres of land where the home is located. They must apply for the exemption annually.
Hampton's population of residents aged 65 years and older grew by 11 percent from 2000 to 2010, to 15,143, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Tuck encouraged senior citizens to regularly attend City Council meetings.
"You have to come to council to let us know what you're thinking and what the impacts may be," he said.
Brauchle can be contacted by phone at 757-247-2827.
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