Tax freeze for low-income seniors urged

Loudon County commissioner pushing issue

By Hugh G. Willett,

LOUDON - Newly elected Loudon County Commissioner Austin Shaver is hoping that Loudon County will follow the lead of surrounding counties by adopting a freeze on property taxes for low-income seniors.

In November 2006, more than 80 percent of voters across the state and in Loudon County approved the amendment giving the General Assembly the authority to allow counties to implement a freeze on local option property taxes for taxpayers 65 and older with an income of $33,000 per year or less, Shaver said.

"It's what the voters overwhelmingly asked for," said Shaver, who joined the commission in August representing the Lenoir City district. "I made a promise during my campaign that I would try to get this through."

Commissioner Don Miller from Tellico Village challenged Shaver at a recent commission meeting, saying he did not think it was the best time to enact a freeze on property taxes.

"I think we need to sort out the school building program first," Miller said.

The Loudon commission is trying to figure out how to fund a school building program estimated at costing between $50 million and $100 million over the next 10 years. According to Miller, the county cannot afford a property tax freeze.

Shaver said he has spoken with trustees in Anderson, Knox and Roane counties about the effects of the freeze on the tax base. The freeze has not had an enormous impact on tax revenue, he said.

According to Shaver, 700 to 900 residents of Loudon County would be eligible for the program, and that would result in a revenue loss of about $50,000 to $75,000.

Voters in Loudon County have consistently voted against the wheel tax and against the sales tax. "They expect local government to exercise restraint," Shaver said.

Miller points out that the rejection of the other forms of taxes only places more importance on the revenue from property taxes.

"It's really the only lever we have to turn to help the schools," he said, adding that the impact on tax revenue might be greater than Shaver estimates.

"I had some data showing more like 1,800 people would be eligible," Miller said.

Shaver said his goal is to put the issue before the commission again before the end of the year, so that, if enacted, it will freeze property taxes at the 2008 level.

There already exists a state program called Senior Tax Relief that anyone over 65 with an income of $24,000 or lower may apply for, Miller said.

"I think we could simplify things by using the program that is in place," he said.

Among the options would be expanding the existing program and raising the $24,000 limit to $33,000, Miller said. The main reason to use an existing program would be to lower the cost of administering the program, he said.