Deadline nears to apply for tax break

Monday is the deadline for Montgomery County homeowners to apply for the Homestead Exemption property tax break, which on average saves program participants about $600 annually.

More than 47,000 homeowners in the county participate in the program, but some senior citizens and fully disabled residents who qualify have not enrolled.

Auditor Karl Keith has tried to encourage eligible homeowners to sign up through radio advertisements, outreach at senior events and mailings.

His office mailed out about 780 letters notifying people not receiving the credit they may be eligible. Still, some people haven’t received the message.

“It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how much publicity you do about these programs and no matter what you do in the news media, you still run into people who say I’ve never heard of that program,” Keith said.

The Homestead Exemption program was expanded in the late 2000s to make all senior citizen homeowners eligible, regardless of their income. But the program has resumed using means and income tests to determine eligibility.

In 2007, the auditor signed up 37,000 homeowners after the income-eligibility requirement was suspended. But participation has declined from 48,500 people from 2013, which officials attribute to people moving out of the area, losing ownership of their properties and other changes in circumstances.

The state program is open to homeowners who are permanently and completely disabled, and owners 65 and older with a total adjusted gross household income of $31,000 or less. Social Security payments do not count toward the income test.

The program allows eligible homeowners to exempt as much as $25,000 from the market value of their home and one acre of their property. With the credit, a home valued at $100,000 would be taxed as if it is worth $75,000, according to the state.

So far this year, the auditor’s office has received more than 600 applications from interested taxpayers, county officials said. Keith said time is running out for eligible homeowners to sign up.

The reinstatement of income-eligibility rules has caused some confusion among residents, Keith said.

People already enrolled in the program need not reapply, because they were grandfathered in and are not subject to income tests.

The program now offers veterans who are totally disabled related to their service an additional tax break. Instead of a $25,000 exemption on their homes, it is a $50,000 exemption. They are not subject to the income test.

About 50 people in the county have applied for that benefit.

The program provides seniors and disabled residents hundreds of dollars in tax relief each year, according to the state.

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