Senior tax exemption likely to end

State budget crunch puts break for elderly in jeopardy

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As real property valuation notices are to be mailed out Thursday, an exemption for seniors looks to be eliminated because of the state's budget crunch.

The exemption, which this year could save Moffat County seniors nearly a combined $100,000, will likely be shelved for at least three years, said Moffat County Assessor Suzanne Brinks.

"It looks like the writing's on the wall," said Brinks, whose office has fielded concerns about the pending lost exemption.

"I don't know exactly what to tell them. For most Moffat County seniors, it cuts their taxes in half."

Approved in a November 2000 statewide ballot question, the senior property tax exemption was effective only in 2002 -- for property tax payable in 2003.

Qualifying seniors -- upon completing application forms that are still available at the county assessors' office -- must have been at least 65 years of age as of Jan. 1, 2002, and owned a primary residence for at least 10 years.

For those eligible, the first 50 percent of a $200,000 property tax valuation was exempt from tax.

Some 363 Moffat County seniors received the break, which saved a total of $99,601, Brinks said.

The state backfills lost revenue for each Colorado county.

Statewide, an estimated $57 million exempt tax was paid back from the state -- money the state Legislature says it needs to help plug Colorado's $900 million budget deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The tax's three-year suspension is included in the budget awaiting Gov. Bill Owens' signature.

Rep. Al White (R-Winter Park) called the move was the best of bad alternatives. Both White and Sen. Jack Taylor (R-Steamboat Springs) said that language from the November 2000 ballot question gives lawmakers discretion to adjust the senior tax exemption for tighter fiscal times.

"Without that, we'd be taking seniors out of nursing homes and all sorts of other dire alternatives," said White, who voted for the tax's elimination. "I realize seniors are

upset, but I don't believe most voters realized there were programs available already

(for seniors)."

Brinks, meanwhile, said that seniors unable to pay property tax can apply for a deferment until estates are settled after death, or their property is sold.

No one in recent memory has inquired about the program, Brinks said.

"Perhaps people believe it's better to pay than to have one lump sum in the end, or give children property without a tax lean," she said. "People might not be aware it exists."

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com

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