Effort to increase property tax break for senior citizens goes by wayside
ARVADA – Lois Phillips is looking forward to the day she can claim an estimated $500 annual tax break for her home, but she doesn’t want lawmakers to increase it at the expense of fellow seniors who are struggling to pay their heating bills.”I think people who own a $350,000 home can afford to pay property taxes better than people who can’t afford heating costs,” she said.The property tax break has been on a three-year suspension because of Colorado’s recession, but is scheduled to resume next year. The exemption applies to home owners 65 or older who have occupied the residence for 10 years.An attempt to increase the tax break failed at the Legislature. Rep. Bill Crane, R-Arvada, wanted to increase the property tax exemption from 50 percent of the first $200,000 in market value to 50 percent of the first $350,000, beginning Jan. 1. No seniors showed up to testify at a hearing and the bill died.Phillips, 78, said she plans to claim the tax break in two years when she meets the 10-year ownership requirement.The refunds are scheduled to automatically resume next year at the lower level. In 2002, the first and only year it was in effect, there were 123,326 exemptions granted to seniors averaging $492 each out of 1.5 million residential properties that paid taxes that year.Lawmakers said they have the estimated $66 million it will take to make up for the lost property taxes because voters approved Referendum C last fall, agreeing to give up an estimated $3.7 billion in tax surplus refunds over the next five years.Lawmakers said they are concerned because the tax break for seniors is expected to come at the expense of increased highway funding, which is last on the list for more funding next year.Kelli Fritts, a lobbyist for AARP, said senior citizens will be satisfied if they can get the original exemption restored. She said her organization decided not to testify in favor of the proposed increase because most seniors want to use funds from Referendum C to bolster other programs hurt during the recession, including Meals on Wheels and the Low-income Energy Assistance Program. Fritts said her organization heard few complaints when the senior property tax exemption was put on hold in 2003. But Sen. John Evans, R-Parker, said the restored tax break will be welcomed by seniors, especially in communities where home values have continued to rise, despite the recession.
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