Frederick County Commissioner Candidates state their positions on a possible property tax freeze for Senior Citizens.
This is the letter that was sent to all 18 candidates. Their answers are listed alphabetically.
Dear Candidates for County Commissioner:
The Tentacle.com is particularly interested in your response to the one question below dealing with the parameters you might set as a county commissioner next year on the Senior Citizen Tax Freeze Bill which was signed into law this spring.
This law, according to our information, would freeze the assessment of owner-occupied dwellings for citizens 70 years old or older and on a fixed income. The current commissioners have not, as yet, considered an ordinance to implement this law which will provide some tax relief for senior citizens in Fiscal Year 2008, which begins on July 1, 2007
The board to be elected in November will have to do several things if it decides to provide this relief to Frederick County's senior citizens. They will have to determine the income level, assets, type of assets to be counted, and length of residency for the property tax credit. They will also have to determine if the requirement for occupancy will apply to someone who downsizes, but still will have lived in the county for the required number of years.
Here is a link to the bill as passed unanimously by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Robert Ehrlich. It is being provided so you will not have to search for it, and you will be able to read it for yourself.
The Tentacle readers have expressed an interest in knowing just how each of you would approach the tax freeze allowed under this new law; and what parameters you would set if you are elected. Please limit your answers to 250 words or less, AND BE SPECIFIC. They will be posted as submitted unless they exceed this word limit. If they do exceed this limit, I reserve the right to edit them down to fit within that framework.
Please respond by no later than Monday August 21, 2006. We will post the responses we get later that week.
Thank you for your cooperation and for your personal sacrifices in seeking public office. I know; I've been there.
John W. Ashbury
Editor and Publisher
Ron Bird (R)
My initial reaction is that as stated the bill has some great potential. I am in favor of this legislation but I would like to see the age lowered to 65, or the age at which the property owner starts receiving Social Security. When a person decides to apply for Social Security they are usually making a statement that they are retired. I would like to see a clear definition of what is considered to be a fixed income. These people have paid their debt for education well over and I feel they have earned a break now. I will be glad to stand up for senior citizens.
Mike Cady (R)
The County's Operating Revenue increased from $313 to $437 million over the past four years (an average of 18% a year). Very few of us enjoyed such increases in our personal revenue. Thus, I do not favor increases in property taxes for any of our citizens.
Because of a variety of legal and public policy reasons, reducing government spending is nearly impossible. Therefore, I strongly support controlling the rate at which government grows. One way to accomplish this goal is to enact legislation that limits tax increases. This is why I voted for the ordinance that places a ceiling on increased assessments on residential property taxes to 105% and adoption of the Constant Yield Rate (.936).
With these tax policies in place, the county tax revenue still increased at a greater rate than the median family income because of our robust economy and the market value of land and homes. These positive economic indicators permit the consideration of freezing the property taxes for eligible senior citizens and disabled homeowners.
Thus, I would support legislation to freeze property taxes for those residents who meet the criteria outlined in the state’s enabling legislation and have it effective for the next fiscal year.
My preference is:
1. A minimum of five past consecutive years homeowner residency;
2. One homeowner attaining age 70;
3. Annual family income of less than $55,000; and
4. Liquid investments of less than $250,000.
I am agreeable to amending these criteria to reach a consensus to adopt an ordinance.
Samie Conyers (R) No Response Received
Micky Fyock (R)
Recently I noticed an elderly lady walking around my hometown picking up cans. I thought to myself, that's great of her to be picking up trash and getting exercise. It wasn't until she passed away that I found out she was exchanging the cans for money just to survive. I was ashamed of myself. I vowed if I ever get into the position to help citizens like her I would. I support the tax freeze on citizens 70 years or older as long as they have resided in Frederick County for at least five years. If a person has resided in Frederick County for more than 10 years they should not be penalized in the tax relief program because they have better prepared themselves financially, and surely have earned the piece of mind in retirement. A person should not be penalized for downsizing either, it is just good common sense. I believe the senior citizens have already paid their way many times over. I will admit I am not familiar with all the programs or proposed programs. I welcome the fact to be better educated to the needs of our senior citizens by the seniors. I believe you are our forgotten hero's. I have already dedicated my life to serving and protecting this county and its citizens. If elected, I will take teamwork, passion, willingness to listen and – most of all – common sense to the board.
David Gray (R)
We will need to integrate this tax benefit with the Maryland Homeowners Property Tax Credit.
The Homeowner's Property Tax Credit is forgiveness of tax, dependent on the owner's income vs. assessment, whereas the commissioners' bill is a deferral. It is better to have tax forgiven rather than deferred.
Tax forgiveness should be calculated first. Then the remainder could be looked at to see what could be deferred.
The ordinance must be simple to calculate.
The law leaves the details to the new board of commissioners.
For instance: If the asset limit (net worth) includes the house/property than the new higher value of the house could disqualify the owner even if the income limits are met (i.e. low – fixed income). This would defeat the purpose of the bill. Presently the Homeowner's Tax Credit has a net worth limit of $200,000 and limits the credit to the first $300,000 of assessed property valuation.
Everything that is deferred will be subtracted from the proceeds when the house is sold. This reduces the money available for assisted living or inheritance.
Initially the county would lose revenue. However after the first few years revenue should even out. As people pass on the deferred taxes will be paid back into the county treasury.
The next board should appoint a working group of citizens to thoroughly study options. Public hearings should then be held with mail, e-mail and phone input encouraged. Many older citizens could find it difficult to come to Winchester Hall.
Tom Henderson (R)
I am not one that likes to muddy up the waters. In my opinion the parameters should be:
Total income (spend able);
Length of time residing in Frederick County;
Owner occupancy is a must; and
Assets other than real property should not count.
Down sizing should not be a factor as long as residency requirement is met.
Charles A. Jenkins (R)
Three immediate things I will work on to relieve the plight of seniors not being able to continue living in Frederick County.
1) Freeze the property tax bills on residents over 70 with incomes below $60,000. I will not support putting a lien on the property to "re-coup" the "lost" taxes upon the death of the owners.
2) Work to combine the fire tax portion of our tax bills with the property tax portion of our bills, subjecting the fire tax to the same 5% increase applicable to all owner-occupied housing in the county. For example, currently if your assessment increased by $100,000 the fire tax is not capped at 5% as are property taxes; your increase is based on the full assessment increase.
3) Look to allowing imports of prescription drugs from Canada. These savings can amount to real relief for many of our citizens.
FYI: the state analysis of freezing property taxes at the current rate is approximately $2.8M, or 1.5 cents on the property tax rate. If we didn't build our next high school (Oakdale) as a Peer One school with all the bells and whistles, then this freeze on the property taxes for seniors would be pretty painless to the county's coffers.
Elaine McC. Kessinger (R)
The Senior Citizens Assessment Freeze Act will apply to single-family residences and the residence must be owner-occupied (primary residence) as of January 1, 2007. The taxes will be frozen at their 2006 level or the level for the year in which the persons first became eligible.
There will have to be an income requirement, i.e., a maximum of $45,000 household income combined for all persons living in the residence for 2006; however, there will have to be some lesser amounts identified for prorated benefit qualification. This sets a ceiling that cannot be exceeded without popular vote.
It must be made clear to seniors that these bills will not freeze the amount of taxes they will pay; however, it will freeze their assessments if their households’ income is at $45,000 or less. If their income exceeds $45,000, their value will vary slightly from year to year due to the percentages being applied in the varying limits for percentage benefit, higher or lower.
The tax bill from year to year may also vary based on the tax rate in their municipality (that would apply to specific types of local jurisdictions, i.e., the county at large, or municipalities).
Provisions are needed if a senior qualifies in one year, however, may exceed the limitations to qualify in another year. There has to be provisions that the original base year value remains in effect in the event that the citizen qualifies for the exemption again in another year as long as they remain in the home.
John R. Lovell Jr. (R)
This is a critical issue to all seniors and I realize that in a county where land values have gone up, it has made it much more difficult for seniors on fixed income to pay property taxes. This ordinance could be enacted this fall prior to the general election.
The tax freeze bill enacted will freeze the property tax for those individuals under the criteria set by the commissioners. This will not, however, freeze the fire tax, which will continue to increase as the assessments on the property increases. When we have a fire tax that levies equally on the entire county, then it will be capped like the current 105% assessment cap on property.
This assessment cap and tax freezes, while highly desired, must be reviewed with a critical eye on the needs of the county and weighed against the rising percentage of taxpayers reaching senior status.
I am in favor of the following criteria for a tax freeze relief ordinance that should include: Maximum Liquid Assets: $250,000 or less – not including home of residency. County residency requirement: Five years residency requirement prior to applying for the text credit. Age limitations: One owner of the residency must be at least 70 years of age at time of application. Annual Income: Annual fixed household income not to exceed $55,000 (after deducting 50% of household annual Social Security income).
Ed Lulie (R)
I believe that we should help seniors with property tax assessments on their primary residency in Frederick County. It would make sense to me to find a way to cap their rate increases or exempt them to the extent the county can afford to do so. It would have to be done in such a way as to focus on the seniors that need it the most.
As it stands valuations went through the roof and even after the actual rate was reduced, everyone saw large tax increases.
I believe that even if the housing market nationally declines Frederick County will continue to see the price of housing increasing due to the quality of life and amount of money coming into our area by an expanding federal government. As the attractiveness of Montgomery County continues to fall, we will continue to see people voting with their feet and looking to Frederick County as a better place to invest, work and live in. This will help keep our county’s real estate prices steady and/or increasing.
It may well be that we will continue to lower our tax rates but see the actual bills rise yet again.
This will increase the importance of helping seniors cope with this escalating problem.
Stan Mazaleski (R)
I made my support of seniors very clear during the Mt. Airy Forum with Mayor Frank Johnson on August 10, 2006; but the Frederick News Post kept it out. I was the only candidate that evening to go extensively in support of lowering taxes especially for seniors, to fight for better health care and decent longevity, and how by 2020 over 55% of Frederick County residents will be seniors, and they are being taxed (property) to death. I will work to significantly reduce their property taxes, improve health care, quality of life, etc. I plan to push for "Slots" and expand tourism, slow residential growth, expand business growth with a positive tax base, improve communications with federal, state, and local authorities who will do something, and not spin wheels. Coordinated long range planning, along with stream-lining government with reduced waste planning is a must. I have lots of other activities and plans which I will release after I am elected September 12, 2006.
Joan McIntyre (R)
This is a very simple, 70+ and 20 years residency, freeze property taxes, they should be fully vested at that point. A lesser amount of residency and income can play into it also, i.e. 5, 10 and 15 years. with equitable income levels. Having a floating income level is necessary to stay pace. It should always be a percentage rather than a hard and fast dollar amount. There isn’t space to get into the asset aspect of the law.
Implement programs for renovations/repairs with low interest loans or deferrals, for fixed incomes. Seniors should have the flexibility to move anywhere in our county. Downsizing doesn't mean down pricing. I've tried and what I get is unrealistic, Home Owners Associations and higher property taxes for a place one-half or less the size of what I now own.
When the county runs out of money they dig deeper into our pockets. Government needs to learn to live within its mean; it needs to be put on a budget rather than making one.
Seniors have already given this community a vast amount over their lifetimes. Seniors are our largest source of volunteerism. They are assets, not liabilities. If we can't protect our seniors then there is little else to be proud of in this county of ours. If you want a piece of the good ole days, there is no better piece than to have parents, grandparents, and grandchildren living close to each other.
Part II is keeping our lifelong young people here.
Billy Shreve (R)
No Senior Left Behind
I am the only candidate to address this issue without being prompted. I have listened to the senior community and heard their concerns. A Senior Tax Freeze is the first item I will enact once elected. It has been a part of my Affordable Housing platform since my announcement. My work with Habitat for Humanity, two years as president, uniquely qualifies me to understand and address this issue. I have built affordable housing for life (completely handicap accessible and senior friendly), in the Frederick community for the last 12 years.
Income – Less than the Washington area median income, approximately $60,000;
Assets – Less that $750,000 in retirement assets, excluding primary residence. All other assets will be included.
Residency – 25 years in Frederick County, or age 65 and lived in the county for 15 years, and no kids in school. Downsizing is okay.
I will also modify the zoning ordinance to make it easier for seniors to age in place. This will make it easier for seniors to modify their homes to accommodate first floor owner’s suites, or for handicap accessibility. Being on the Board of Appeals for the last five years (currently chairman) helps me understand how to modify the zoning ordinance to accomplish our common goals.
My goal is to allow seniors to live in Frederick County forever, not be forced to move because of increasing property taxes or because they can no longer physically live in their home.
John L. Thompson Jr. (R) – No Response Received
Richard M. Floyd (D)
I will look for ways to help our seniors continue to live and flourish in our county. There is a lot of work ahead for whomever is elected to fill in the blanks that will be used to formulate the plan and put into practice. There will need to be some actuarial help in this formulation.
I am not an expert in the field of taxes but do believe that some of the facts are already spelled out such as age and HHS Poverty Guidelines help with the income levels; but the actuarial calculations will provide short and long term impacts utilizing a variety of inputs using the age 70 as a known constant.
The Homeowners Property Tax Credit remains in affect and has specific criteria as to who is eligible and is based solely on gross household income for the state program. Some applicants may be eligible for the county program even if they don't qualify for the state. These programs must be filed for every year if you wish to be considered for a tax credit.
I am not sure of the conflict that may occur between this new program and the already existing programs and how decisions are made? Can you use both? Do you have to choose one or the other? Or can you use both?
I will support our seniors’ needs while we continue to meet the needs of the present without compromising our future generations.
Jan Gardner (D)
I have a public record on the topic of a senior tax credit or tax freeze. I supported Commissioner. Reeder's efforts to obtain legislative authority to implement such a tax credit for the past two years. The first year Mr. Reeder introduced this concept, only Mr. Reeder and I voted in support of obtaining legislative authority for a senior tax credit. Last year, Commissioner Lovell added his vote, so the bill went to the delegation but was ultimately not introduced because of the statewide bill.
Commissioners Reeder, Lovell and I ultimately agreed on the following criteria to qualify for the tax credit/freeze:
1. Age 70;
2. Owner Occupied Homes Only;
3. Must have lived in the home for five years, downsizing considered;
4. Annual income of $55,000 or less;
5. We would establish an asset cap which excluded the house or property in question but I can't remember the amount of the asset cap.
There were other details to consider such as what happens if an occupant moves into a nursing home but still owns the home and has a spouse under the age of 70. There are other similar circumstances that need some thought.
I am on the record with a positive vote on this bill and with a positive vote on the prior year's bill which requested broad authority with details to follow in a local bill.
Thus, I am willing to support targeted tax relief for seniors on a
Kai John Hagen (D)
I enthusiastically support the goal of Senior Citizen Tax Freeze Bill, and I look forward to participating in the process of determining the parameters for a Frederick County ordinance to implement the new state law, which authorizes our county commissioners "to grant a tax credit against the county or municipal corporation property tax imposed on real property owned by and used as the principal residence of an individual at least 70 years old and of limited income; etc."
I am not prepared to list here exactly what I think each and every parameter ought to be, however, with regard to details such as the types of assets to be counted, the length of residency required, the specific impact of having moved within the county, and so on.
Those issues will be resolved, but there is an important public discussion and decision-making process to be engaged, and I would like to have the full benefit of reading all the information and hearing all the testimony before committing to a specific answer on each of those points. While I wholeheartedly agree with the establishment of a senior property tax credit, I don't pretend to know exactly how all the details should best be handled.
Regarding other areas of great concern to our senior citizens, I look forward to working on issues related to taxes, transportation, the cost of housing and health care, and the ability of seniors to stay in their homes.
A healthy community offers a high quality of life for all its citizens.
Ron Wolf (D)
The financial pressure on senior citizens has been strained in recent years as a result of high home inflation. High home inflation has resulted in skyrocketing property taxes, which has been particularly hard on senior citizens on a fixed income.
State law has established the following: county ordinances can provide property tax relief for seniors who are aged 70 and older and on a fixed income. It is likely that the next Board of Commissioners will support and create such an ordinance to freeze property taxes for qualifying seniors.
It is recommended that the ordinance cover the following for residents of Frederick County: owner-occupied property only, that income be established as fixed, include all sources of income (Social Security, wages, salaries, alimony, interest, and other income), and a requirement of two years residency in the county. Fixed income should allow for fluctuations in interest or annuities that may vary with changes in the economy. Collectively, the Board of Commissioners may choose to add other requirements.
The maximum income level should be initially established at $40,000 with a review of the income level every three years. Should we face a prolonged period of inflation, the maximum level could be adjusted upward. Residents will have to apply for the tax freeze.
The rate itself should be set at the rate existing at the time of the application minus 10 percent and frozen at that rate.