Warren County mulls changes to tax-relief program

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County could change its tax-relief program for elderly and disabled homeowners.

The Board of Supervisors gave an early endorsement Tuesday of a proposed amendment to the county ordinance that grants some relief from real estate tax to qualifying property owners. Supervisors agreed at a work session to hold a public hearing on an amendment to the tax-relief ordinance recommended by Commissioner of Revenue Sherry Sours.

If adopted, the changes would take affect Jan. 1. Supervisors also supported a plan to grandfather property owners already in the program to allow those who qualified under the old rules to continue to receive 100 percent relief. County Administrator Douglas Stanley told the board some people would “get caught between the categories” if not grandfathered in.

Currently, the county allows 100 percent tax relief for people ages 65-69 who earn up to $26,500, and up to $30,000 for those 70 years and older. Sours said 392 property owners participate in the relief program, including 38 military veterans not affected by the proposed changes. Of the total amount, 233 taxpayers earn $20,000 or less. If the county did not grandfather in the current participants, 110 property owners would no longer qualify for 100 percent relief, Sours explained.

Sours proposed that the county create one age bracket for owners 65 and older and adopt a sliding scale for the maximum, gross combined income allowed. The scale as proposed would continue to allow a 100 percent exemption for owners who earn $20,000 or less. The percentage of exemption would decrease as income increases up to $35,000.

Sours explained later Tuesday that some applicants earned slightly more than the current cap and couldn’t qualify. Raising the cap would allow some owners to qualify.

A property owner who enters the program after Jan. 1 and earns $20,001-$35,000 would qualify for a percent of the tax relief, whereas a person making the same amount up to $30,000 would receive 100 percent relief under the current program.

Supervisor Linda Glavis pointed out that, without the grandfathering, according to Sours’ information, owners who earn between $20,001 and $35,000 would begin paying an average of $481 in taxes under the new rules.

Each participant must file paperwork each year to qualify for the program. Sours said it’s still possible that a participant can leave the program or return.

Warren County’s neighbors use a sliding scale, except Fauquier County, which still grants 100 percent relief up to a maximum amount of income.

Under Sours’ proposal, the net combined income could not exceed $100,000. The net combined financial worth — unchanged since 2006 — would increase to $150,000.

Under the proposal, the gross combined income would encompass money from all sources from all people living in the dwelling, including owners, spouses, owners’ relatives and non-relatives. It excludes tenants or caregivers. The current rule does not include the first $3,000 of a relative’s income, excluding a spouse, in the calculation of the gross combined income. The proposal seeks to increase that exempted amount to $5,000.

“It was old, outdated and needed to be revised,” Sours told the board.

Supervisors can expect to see the proposed ordinance at their Oct. 21 meeting and hold a public hearing in November.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com