After a vote to raise the Williamson County property tax rate by 7 cents Monday, the county commission addressed a resolution to provide some additional tax relief to seniors on fixed incomes.
The commission voted to raise the maximum household income for seniors to qualify for the Broad Base Tax Relief Program from $35,289 to $38,808. This program is one of three tax relief options for senior citizens in the county along with the Tennessee Tax Relief for the Elderly program and the Tax Freeze Program.
District 11 Commissioner Brian Beathard explained the Broad Base Tax Relief Program is the only one of the three controlled by the county, whereas the others are controlled primarily by the state. This program provides a tax rebate between 20% and 90% of property tax and portions of the wheel tax, sales tax and other county taxes for qualifying seniors (ages 65 and up) below the maximum income.
Beathard said the idea to raise this maximum income was brought to him by a citizen, Ernie Bacon.
“With the anticipation of a proposed property tax increase, he asked if there was any way to maybe give some respite, relief to those seniors who are on fixed incomes at low-income levels, who may or may not have moved here before Williamson County became the destination spot that it is now, who may have seen their home values raised, but, if they’re not intending on selling those homes, may not ever realize that value,” Beathard said.
“And if they budgeted for a retirement many years ago, they are probably finding that that budget is lacking now.”
Beathard said he explored options to adjust the maximum income allowed for the Tax Freeze Program but hit roadblocks at the state level. He then proposed that the maximum income of the Broad Base Tax Relief Program be raised to match that of the Tax Freeze Program, which is set by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office — $53,680 for this year.
However, the commission’s budget committee proposed an amendment to instead raise the maximum income about 10% from its existing number, resulting in the $38,808 that was approved.
District 9 Commissioner Matt Williams, a budget committee member, explained that this was primarily to keep the program fair to other groups in the county. He said it would be unfair to give a rebate to seniors making $50,000 a year but not to young teachers making just over $40,000.
“We’re the only county in the state that even has this program in place, and it’s an added benefit to our elderly within the community that might be living on fixed income,” Williams said. “In being the only one in the (state) in doing that, it’s a good win to do that, to increase it and expand the limit for our senior citizens out there, but I think at the same time, we have to be a little bit cautious.
“The original proposal was in the right spot. The head and heart were in the right spot, but it needed a few amendments to potentially protect the county from getting into kind of sticky situations.”
Williamson County Trustee Karen Paris said a 10% increase is still a considerable jump, and she expects 50 to 75 additional households to become eligible for the program under the new limit. She said there are currently 1,150 households under the Broad Base Tax Relief Program.
“I’m appreciative of the commission’s support of the program, and I’m glad they made an increase to it,” Paris said. “I think there’s just the interest of sort of seeing how many more people are able to qualify at this new level and possibly doing more later.”
Commissioner Chad Story (District 4) also mentioned the increase addresses concerns he’s heard from other citizens like Hank Rotter, who proposed an increase to the Tax Freeze Program maximum income at a commissioners meeting with constituents on June 13 in response to then proposed property tax hike.
“I want to make sure that the burden isn’t shifted disproportionately to the retired, the working poor and to the senior citizens in this county,” Rotter said at the meeting.
Though this addresses the Broad Base Tax Relief Program, not the Tax Freeze Program, Story said it’s a small step in the same direction.
“It’s still a little bit of a drop in the bucket, but it addresses exactly what he was talking about,” he said.