QUEENSBURY Low-income seniors In Warren County will soon get an expanded opportunity to earn a break on their property taxes, because of a decision reached April 20 by county leaders.
Beginning in 2013, those homeowners earning up to $24,000 in total income will become eligible for a 50 percent reduction in county taxes, and those earning from $24,001 to $32,400 may seek discounts of 45 percent to 5 percent, based on a sliding scale.
The exemption change prompted a length debate at the April 20 county Board of Supervisors meeting.
The county leaders had been considering a $29,000 threshold that Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Stec had proposed, but the figure was lowered after some contended the change would shift the tax burden too radically. The prior threshold, in place since 2005, was $18,000, with a sliding scale of percentage discounts available to those earning up to $23,700 per year.
Former Bolton Supervisor Deanne Rehm, longtime assessor for the town of Lake Luzerne, said the expansion of the exemption would likely spread to town and school district taxes — as other taxing authorities followed suit — amplifying the shift of taxes to others who also were financially stressed. She estimated that the higher threshold would prompt a $141,300 loss in county tax revenue that would shift to other taxpayers.
“When you grant benefits, someone else has to pick up the bill,” she said.
Supervisors listened to her point, and voted to support the amendment of Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino to trim the qualification threshold to $24,000.
Some county supervisors and several citizens questioned whether the expanded income threshold would allow wealthy retirees to qualify.
Queensbury resident John Hodgkins warned that some wealthy people might cash in at the expense of those working hard, struggling to pay their bills.
“The state’s senior tax exemption is not designed to help the truly needy,” he said, noting that seniors owning a $1 million home could qualify if they had no reportable income. “Their taxes would be shifted to the middle-aged and young families who are already facing financial stresses.”