Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Senior Homestead Exemption on chopping block in face of sinking revenues

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 12:24 PM

click to enlarge Schleiker: Please fund the Senior Homestead Exemption. - COURTESY ASSESSOR'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy Assessor's Office
  • Schleiker: Please fund the Senior Homestead Exemption.
A voter-approved program that helps keep senior citizens in their homes by reducing their property tax bills has landed on the potential chopping block as state lawmakers begin to plan for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on state revenue.

The Senior Homestead Exemption could be suspended under a staff proposal submitted to the state legislature's Joint Budget Committee.

The Legislative Council Staff wrote in its March budget forecast:
Significant uncertainty remains about the actions of consumers, businesses, and investors, as well as health officials and government agencies in the months ahead. While a near-term contraction is certain, this contraction could lead to a prolonged and severe pullback in economic activity. The risk of recession in calendar year 2020 is
elevated and poses significant downside risk to this forecast. 
But the idea of balancing the state budget "off of the backs" of seniors and disabled veterans drew a sharp response from El Paso County Assessor Steve Schleiker, who urged the local delegation of state lawmakers to continue funding the exemption.

In November 2000, voters approved Referendum A, which modified the state Constitution by allowing a property tax reduction of up to one-half of the first $200,000 market value of a senior's home to those who qualify, if the state can afford it, as determined by the legislature. To be eligible, seniors must be 65 years or older on January 1 of the year in which they apply. They or their spouse also must be the owner of record and have owned and used the property as their primary residence for at least 10 consecutive years. Disabled veterans also are entitled to the exemption.

The law took effect on Jan. 1, 2002, for taxes payable in 2003, but lawmakers voted not to fund the program in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

In March 2020, the state funding forecast noted $163.6 million would be needed to fund the homestead exemption. That includes $158.9 million for seniors and $4.6 million for disabled veterans.

In El Paso County, where seniors make up almost 10 percent of the state's total, and veterans 30 percent, the exemption would cost the state $14.7 million, Schleiker says.

"As your El Paso County Assessor, the Senior Homestead Property Tax Exemption and Disabled Veterans Property Tax Exemption programs [have] and will continue to be one of my highest priorities," Schleiker wrote to lawmakers.

From his letter:
I feel many of our elected officials have forgotten their history? Why did our State Legislature decide to take this Referendum to the Colorado voters? Could it have been because Colorado was experiencing a very HOT real estate market, values of residential properties were going up by double digits, our seniors could not keep up with the cost of living and growing tax burden? Any of this sound familiar today? Sadly, 20 years ago many of our seniors could not pay their increasing property taxes and unfortunately many of these properties were either foreclosed on or went through a County Treasurer Tax Sale. At that time our State Legislature recognized this problem and proposed the Senior Homestead Property Tax Exemption program.
He also reminded legislators that arguments for the 2000 ballot measure noted the exemption would not only assist low income seniors with a rising tax burden, but also allow long-time senior residents to age in place.

The legislature reconvenes after a break due to COVID-19 on May 18. The Joint Budget Committee is due to meet May 12 to hear an updated revenue forecast.

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