Board considers tax relief for elderly

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County leaders could make changes to a program that helps elderly and disabled property owners on their tax bills.

The Board of Supervisors discussed the county’s tax relief program at a work session Thursday. The board is expected to take action at a future meeting. Chairman David Ferguson asked that Commissioner of Revenue Kathy Black provide more information on how proposed changes could affect the county fiscally.

The county usually revisits the program each time it goes through a real-estate reassessment, the last time being in 2010. Senior citizens and disabled residents who make up to $30,000 can qualify for tax relief under the county’s program. The county also counts assets up to $100,000 and income of a relative in the home up to $3,000. The county limits the maximum exemption to $750. That amount has increased over the years. Other counties do not set a cap on the exemption.

The county can increase the income threshold and/or the assets allowed under the program, Black said. The board also could revisit the cap, she said.

Should the board decide to make any changes to the ordinance establishing the program, members could approve the measures on an emergency basis and hold a public hearing within the required 60 days. This would allow the commissioner to meet the requirements of the application process – Jan. 1-31 – and to certify to the treasurer by Feb. 15.

The board did not come to a consensus on what changes they would want to make to the program. Vice Chairman Conrad Helsley did not attend the work session.

Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz said they would support moving the filing deadline from Jan. 31 to April 1 to give taxpayers more time. Bailey also suggested that the county expand the exemption from one house and one acre to five acres. Black said moving the deadline could limit her office’s ability to help taxpayers.

A qualifying applicant who reports an income of $5,500 and assets totaling $120, living in a home assessed at $40,500 would pay $231 in real estate tax without the program. Under the program that resident qualifies for 100 percent relief and pays no real estate tax. An applicant making $27,600, reports assets of $89,200 and lives in a home valued at $104,200 receives 30 percent relief and pays $416 in real estate tax, saving $178. An applicant making $21,580, reports assets of $24,200 and lives in a home valued at $178,000 receives 60 percent relief and pays $406 in taxes, saving $609. The amounts of relief fall below the $750 cap.

Shruntz suggested that the county eliminate the cap. District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese said that if the board increases the amount of relief allowed, the county would need to replace that lost revenue.

Approximately 300 taxpayers receive relief through the program. Out of the taxpayers who applied for relief, 11 people did not qualify, Black said, either because they earned too much or their assets exceeded the threshold.

Also at the meeting, the board discuss Sheriff Timothy C. Carter’s request for more than $48,000 in asset forfeiture funds. Carter asked that the board allow him to use money in the asset forfeiture account to pay a consultant to study the salaries of the sworn officers in his agency. The county receives such funds when the sheriff’s office participates in law enforcement operations jointly with federal agencies.

Carter asked for $25,000 to cover the estimated cost of the study. The county hired Springsted Inc. about seven years ago to conduct a salary study on the pay disparity of the deputies. The study came as a result of a countywide salary study that did not include the sheriff’s office staff.

Carter said his office could do a study on its own but he felt it more appropriate to hire a third-party to perform the work. The Board of Supervisors then could use the results of the study when it works on the fiscal 2017 budget.

The sheriff also asked to use $8,500 from asset forfeiture to buy and train a drug-detection dog. The agency’s previous drug dog, assigned to a school resource officer, died unexpectedly this past spring. Carter notes in a memorandum to county officials that such a dog serves as a resource for law enforcement.

Carter also plans to buy body cameras for five investigators at cost of $4,300. The amount includes maintenance costs. Patrol deputies already use cameras. Investigators act on warrants and might, on occasion, become involved in physical confrontations with individuals in the course of their work, Carter explained.

The sheriff has scheduled two staff members to attend the National Criminal Justice Command College in 2016. Tuition for each member is $5,518 and the sheriff has requested $11,036 to cover the cost.

Also at the meeting, the board convened in closed session to interview representatives of firms that submitted proposals to provide legal services to the county. The county received proposals from two firms. Chairman David Ferguson invited Richard R. Walker to sit in on the closed session. Walker defeated Ferguson in the Nov. 3 election for the District 3 seat on the board. Walker takes office in January.

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