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Politics & Government

Lawmakers work to boost property tax aid for low-income residents

Photo of an envelope that says "Important tax return document enclosed."
Flickr Creative Commons

Sweeping property tax changes approved by legislative Republicans last year could prevent low-income homeowners from getting a break, though a new bill is trying to help soften that blow.

Starting this year, low-income homeowners whose property values are more than 125% of their county’s median evaluation will no longer be eligible for the state’s circuit breaker program.

That program gives approved applicants up to $1,500 off their property taxes. Under those changes made last year, an individual must also earn less than $31,900 annually.

These provisions don’t apply to veterans with a 100% disability rating.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle (R-Star), who sponsored last year’s changes, said at the time he didn’t want retirees in million-dollar homes getting a break.

“The ability is there for the counties to address this problem now,” Moyle said Wednesday.

Counties can give homeowners hardship exemptions instead, he said.

But House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea (D-Boise) said that money must come from somewhere.

“If a county were to give out hardships very liberally, that would mean tax shifts to other people or fewer services,” Necochea said.

The new bill would raise the program’s qualifying ceiling. Owners whose homes are worth $300,000 or 150% of a county’s median evaluation would be eligible, whichever is greater.

“I’m not trying to legislate fair,” said Rep. Charlie Shepherd (R-Pollock), who sponsors the proposal. “I’m trying to legislate reasonable.”

Assessors from Elmore and Shoshone counties testified in favor of the measure.

Nestled in the Silver Valley in North Idaho, Shoshone County has about 12,500 people. And it’s growing due to people being priced out of nearby Coeur d’Alene according to Jerry White, the county’s assessor.

Rising property values come with that population growth, White said, with 647 homeowners there qualifying for the circuit breaker program last year.

Without Shepherd’s bill, 91 people in Shoshone County would be kicked off the program, he said, nearly half of whom are widows or widowers.

“These are very, very proud people,” White said. “They’re the heart of our community and I can honestly say that many of [these people] would not be in their homes if they had to pay their property tax.”

Josh Dison, the Elmore County Assessor agreed, saying 30 people there would no longer qualify for the circuit breaker under current law.

The new bill passed out of a House committee Wednesday morning and could be taken up by the full House soon.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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