Income eligibility ceilings have been lifted for the senior real estate tax break.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
COUNTY AUDITOR OFFICES IN Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties have experienced a stampede of applicants for the state’s newly expanded senior citizen real estate tax exemption.
“The phone lines have not stopped. We have been getting at least 1,000 calls a day,” said Michael DelFrate, Trumbull County deputy auditor.
The barrage of calls has been accompanied by 100 or more walk-in applicants daily, he said, estimating that 1,000 to 2,000 completed applications are already on file in his office.
The Mahoning County Auditor’s Office also has been receiving about 1,000 telephone inquiries a day and a daily average of 400 completed applications in the mail, with about 85 walk-in applicants daily, said Carol McFall, chief deputy auditor. “We’re just asking people to be as patient with us as they can,” she added.
Mahoning County Treasurer Lisa Antonini said her staff, which is collecting real estate taxes due Aug. 3, has also been bombarded with inquiries and is doing its best to answer taxpayers’ questions about the new law to relieve some of the burden from the auditor’s office. “We’re helping as much as we can,” Antonini said.
One happy applicant
Dropping off a completed application at the Mahoning County Auditor’s Office Monday morning was John Iaderosa of Cranbrook Drive, a retired Commercial Intertech millwright. “I’m 79 years old. I expect to lower it as much as I can,” Iaderosa said of his $1,400 a year property tax payment. “To me, it’s a lot of money,” he added.
“I think it’s great,” Iaderosa said of the new law. However, he added that he believes people over the age of 65 shouldn’t have to pay any property taxes. “You work so hard to pay for your house, and still, you’ve got to pay [property taxes] every six months,” he said. “We pay lots of taxes all our lives. When you retire, you should be free” of real estate taxes, he said, noting that senior citizens are also burdened with medicine, gasoline and food expenses.
Another 79-year-old, Bob Hart of Youngstown, the retired manager of the Poland Post Office, picked up applications Monday morning for himself and his breakfast buddies, who regularly eat at a fast food establishment, while he was en route to work as a volunteer at the St. Vincent dePaul Society soup kitchen on Front Street.
“It’s a fine idea. It’s going to help every senior citizen,” said Hart, who didn’t previously qualify for the program. Hart, who pays about $1,600 in annual property taxes, expects to save about $400 a year under the exemption.
In Columbiana County, Deputy Auditor Mike Smith said his office has received at least 2,000 to 3,000 inquiries on the expanded program and has received 1,500 to 2,000 completed applications so far.
“It’s very crowded,” Smith said of his office. On one recent day, Smith said his office had 174 walk-in applicants, and, on another day, there were 350. About 300 completed applications have been received by mail, he added.
Smith said some applications mailed to his office have been incomplete, requiring staff to call for more information. His office prefers that applications be filed in person at the auditor’s office, where staff can answer applicants’ questions, he said.
The new law
Under House Bill 119, which was signed into law June 30 by Gov. Ted Strickland, all Ohio homeowners who are age 65 or older or permanently and totally disabled, qualify for the exemption. By signing the bill, the governor fulfilled a campaign promise, Antonini said.
The new law gives all qualifying homeowners a $25,000 property tax exemption on the market value of their primary residence, regardless of their income. Previous income eligibility ceilings have been removed under the new law. The average qualifying homeowner is expected to save about $400 a year in property taxes under the new program.
The expanded program takes effect with the first-half property tax collections in 2008, but applications must be received in the auditor’s office in the applicant’s home county by Oct. 1. Those who qualified for the program under the previous rules need not re-apply.
Applications may be filed in person or by mail and must be accompanied by a copy of the applicant’s driver’s license, birth certificate or current or expired passport. Application blanks are available on the Internet or by calling one’s county auditor’s office. There is no fee to apply.
Who is affected
Local communities and school districts will not lose any revenue under the expanded exemption program because the state will reimburse them from tobacco lawsuit settlement money, McFall said.
Auditor’s office officials expect that the new law will expand the number of eligible homeowners from 7,500 to as many as 27,500 in Mahoning County, from 7,000 to 27,000 in Trumbull County and from 5,000 to 15,000 in Columbiana County.
Trumbull County officials have made application blanks available for pickup at senior centers, public libraries and city and township halls. Auditor’s office representatives there have been visiting senior centers at meal times to help people fill out applications.
Mahoning County expects to have in-person application sites at the Canfield Fair and other locations, McFall said.
Columbiana County Auditor Nancy Milliken has been distributing applications at meetings of various community organizations.