By ZOË WATKINS
Beginning with this fiscal year, Bedford County government will now be matching the State of Tennessee’s property tax relief program for low-income elderly homeowners.
County residents were previously eligible for state assistance, but the inclusion of funds in this year’s county budget nearly doubles the amount of actual relief that low-income elderly homeowners can receive, according to a recent county government press release.
But for county trustee Tonya Davis and her office, it’s more than implementing a program. It’s about helping the most vulnerable.
“Some counties if they can’t afford to match all the categories, they take care of the most vulnerable, which is the elderly,” said Davis.
For some, Davis said their income is less than what they’re paying in property tax.
“I see that a lot,” she said. In these cases, often a surviving spouse worked primarily at home or worked at a job several decades ago that didn’t provide a living wage for today. Then in comes a reappraisal year and a change in market value, and many elderly saw increased their home values, upping their taxes by $200 or more dollars.
“I look at some of these and think ‘how do they stay in their homes; they can’t even pay their property tax?’ If it was not for tax relief, they would have lost their homes,” said Davis. Our office is here to help in any way and point them in the right direction.
About the program
This year is the program’s 50th anniversary. The Property Tax Relief Program began in 1973 as a result of the 1972 “Question 3” constitutional amendment.
Davis said the program has helped millions of people to save on local property tax. In 50 years, it’s provided $750 million in relief over the course of 5.4 million approved claims.
In order to be eligible, applicants must meet the criteria of one of the four classifications and qualifications are approved by the state after the application is sent to them from the trustee’s office.
One category is elderly homeowners (who are 65 and over as of Dec. 31, 2023). This is the category that will benefit from the county’s matching funds starting this year. Disabled homeowners (who were disabled before Dec. 31, 2023) also qualify.
For these two categories, the homeowner and spouse/co-owner must have a maximum 2022 income of $33,460, and tax relief is only calculated based on up to $30,900 of market value.
Disabled veterans (totally and permanently disabled due to service-related injury) as well as the surviving spouses of disabled veterans (married to the veteran at the time of the veteran’s death, and not remarried) qualify for the relief program.
There is no income requirement for these two categories. Instead, the tax relief is calculated based on up to $175,000 in market value. For any of the four categories, the applicant must own the home for which relief is sought and use it as their primary residence.
Helping the vulnerable
The county stepped up just for the elderly not because they cut short veterans, according to Davis, but because of the budget and not wanting a tax increase.
So far there have 713 applicants with 508 being elderly resident. The applicants who are elderly and have applied for relief pay property taxes anywhere from $118 a year to $3,752 with the average being $861, according to the trustee’s office.
The county is matching for the elderly is $118 in tax relief; with the state’s matching funds that makes for up to $236 in relief. “If their taxes are not as much, the tax base is less, they don’t get that extra money in hand. That money goes toward the taxes, pays the taxes. And for the ones that are greater than that tax base, it will pay towards that and then they will have to pay the remaining,” explained Davis.
So, being able to knock half or more of that tax payments means elderly homeowners are able to buy important medications or groceries for a week and keep their homes without becoming delinquent.
For veterans, they can received $667 in relief from the state.
“I am so appreciative that the mayor and the commissioners voted to have the match for the elderly. Are they going to buy their groceries? Can they pick up their medicine? Are they able to pay the electric bill? These are the stories I hear,” said Davis. “It is a state program, but we exhaust every effort to help these people. The most rewarding comes in providing them with tax relief and keeping them on the program because they must recertify.
They also started partial payment, which allows taxpayers to pay any amount. The trustee’s office tells them what they need to bring in in order to get their taxes paid by their deadline and that way it keeps them on tax relief,” said Davis.
You can apply for relief starting when you receive your 2023 property tax bill, and applications can be filed until 35 days after the delinquency date. Apply at the office of Bedford County Trustee Tonya Davis, on the first floor of Bedford County Courthouse Annex (the white building on the west side of the Shelbyville square).
For elderly applicants, they will need to provide proof of income, a copy of their Medicare Card (for both spouses), a copy of their social security card (for both spouses), and a copy of their driver’s license or identification card. Veterans will need to provide identification and the trustee’s office will fill out the application.