American culture has long revered and respected its elders. It rightly does so for their seasoned wisdom, for their powerful contribution to communities’ quality of life and for their compassionate role in caring for and nurturing family and loved ones.
In modern times, public policy has mirrored that respect and acknowledged that many senior citizens face tight personal finances in their golden years of retirement. Programs such as Medicare, higher income-tax deductions, and the state-issued Golden Buckeye Card have helped Ohio’s seniors lead a more fulfilling life in managing their personal financial resources and in enabling them to support local tax levies for schools and critically needed public services.
One such program first implemented in 1971 has provided meaningful tax relief for Ohioans 65 years or older. That program, the Homestead Exemption, has been available to qualified individuals 65 years and older to shield a part of their “homestead” (a dwelling and up to 1 acre of property) from real-estate property taxation.
Since 2007, when Gov. Ted Strickland loosened eligibility requirements, it has been available to all eligible homeowners, regardless of income. These individuals can shield up to $25,000 of the market value of their primary residence from property taxation. For example, that means that a home valued at $90,000 generally will be taxed as if it were a $65,000 home, saving about $400 per year in real estate taxes, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation.
For many of Ohio’s 1.5 million seniors on fragile retirement incomes, that $400 can buy considerable comfort and security.
Unfortunately many older Ohioans will watch that benefit severely erode come Jan. 1, 2014. Hidden deep within the state’s new 2014-15 $62 billion budget bill lurks a provision eliminating access for all seniors to the property-tax cut. Only those with total annual incomes of less than $30,000 will be allowed to apply for the Homestead Exemption.
LEGISLATION TO RESTORE EXEMPTION
Fortunately for the financial stability of Ohio’s seniors, the property-tax reduction can be restored for all. Legislators should pursue it doggedly and approve it with all due diligence.
Two Democratic state lawmakers with constituencies in Columbiana County, state Sen. Lou Gentile and State Rep. Nick Barborak, have introduced bills in their respective chambers of the General Assembly to accomplish that end.
As Gentile put it, “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.”
In the short term, it is incumbent upon all Ohioans who will be 65 by Jan. 1 to file for the exemption at their county auditor’s office. The new restriction will be grandfathered into the law, meaning those who receive it before the new year will not be subject to its harsher restrictions.
In the long term, seniors ought to lobby their state representatives and senators for passage of Gentile’s and Barborak’s well reasoned legislation. Given the Republican dominance in both chambers, however, passage may prove difficult by year’s end.
Those reticent legislators, however, should remember one other sterling quality about Ohio’s Golden Agers: They represent a powerful and strongly active voting bloc. They’ll likely remember come Election Day 2014 those legislators who snubbed attempts to restore one small but significant property tax cut providing them with one large and meaningful source of security and peace of mind.