By Ed Runyan
Ohio legislators from Columbiana and Jefferson counties and Democratic candidate for governor Ed FitzGerald are among those calling for the Ohio General Assembly to restore the Homestead Exemption to all senior citizens 65 and older.
Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile of Steubenville, D-30th, and Rep. Nick Barborak of Lisbon, D-5th, are introducing bills to reverse the Homestead Exemption changes made in Gov. John Kasich’s budget bill last summer that take effect Jan. 1. Gentile said his constituents have told him they want to see the exemption restored.
Local state representative Sean O’Brien, D-63rd, of Brookfield, said he was “a little disappointed” when Gov. Kasich changed the Homestead Exemption because it will hurt senior citizens “who need this, and there was no discussion about it.”
Republican Kasich’s budget bill restored a means test that the state last used in 2006. The test limits the number of people 65 and over who could receive a reduction in the amount they paid in real-estate taxes.
Starting in 2007, under Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, everyone 65 and over and permanently disabled Ohioans qualified for the exemption, which saves them about $400 per year on their property taxes.
But starting Jan. 1, Ohioans 65 and over applying for the exemption for the first time will have to qualify by having a family income of no more than $30,500. Those previously approved will be “grandfathered” and still will be able to receive it. Permanently and totally disabled Ohioans will also continue to receive it.
The exemption, which takes the form of a credit on property tax bills, allows qualifying homeowners to exempt $25,000 of the market value of their home from all local property taxes, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation.
“Republicans made drastic changes to the Homestead Exemption provision during last minute budget negotiations without any public input,” Gentile said.
“The new eligibility requirements make the threshold too low, putting thousands of Ohioans who may be retired or living on fixed incomes in a bind. As the cost of living increases for Ohio’s seniors, the state should take into consideration the impact this will have on their quality of life,” Gentile said.
He estimates at least 40,000 households will be affected by the new eligibility requirements.
He is not opposed to a means test, he added but believes the one established by the budget was arbitrary, too low and wasn’t subject to debate and discussion.
Mahoning County Auditor Michael V. Sciortino said the requirement changes are “exactly what we shouldn’t be doing.”
The state has a $2 billion surplus, he added, so there isn’t an overriding fiscal reason for cutting the benefits of the Homestead Exemption.
He also believes many Ohioans are not aware that the change is coming Jan. 1. “Far too many Ohioans are going to discover it when they go to claim this,” he said.