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Hearing set for proposed Cayuga County tax exemption for disabled, seniors

The Citizen - 2/19/2020

Feb. 19--{{featured_button_text}}

AUBURN -- A Cayuga County Legislature committee set a public hearing date on a proposed law affecting tax exemptions for seniors and the disabled.

The resolution would adjust the income levels qualifying those people for exemptions on the county portion of their property taxes if they own their homes, according to a full draft of the law included in the Ways and Means Committee's January agenda.

The public hearing was set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25, at the beginning of the full Legislature meeting.

Real Property Tax Services Director Kelly Anderson said Tuesday evening that there was some confusion among the public what was meant by potentially "increasing" the income levels for qualifying elderly and disabled people.

Currently, a home-owning elderly or disabled person must earn less than $19,400 to get 50% of their assessed home value exempted from the county portion of their tax bill. To get the current lowest discounted rate of 20%, a qualified homeowner can't make more than $25,100.

The proposed law raises the income limit for a 50% discount on assessed home value to $29,000 and caps the highest qualifying income limit at $37,399 -- at which point a person can get a 5% exemption.

"Depending on how it's worded, it makes people think that you're making it harder for them," Anderson said. "I think that was the confusion."

Residents called her department with concerns that more people would be disqualified for property tax discounts, but Anderson said the proposed law is meant to increase eligibility and adopt the income limits set by New York state in 2009.

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Exemptions for county property tax exemptions currently bottom out at 20%, and the resolution proposes extending the scale to include more exemptions at 15%, 10% and 5%.

A vote to set a public hearing on the proposed adjustments passed the committee unanimously on Tuesday evening. "It's helping some of the most vulnerable among us, so I think it's an appropriate course of action," said Legislator Christopher Petrus, R-Brutus.

Legislator Charlie Ripley, R-Summerhill, said he got phone calls from constituents who had positive things to say about the resolution, while Legislator Timothy Lattimore, R-Auburn, noted that more tax exemptions require the responsibility to be shifted somewhere else.

Legislator Elane Daly, D-Auburn, asked Anderson whether other counties have adopted similar adjustments, but Anderson said updates happen sporadically and it's not always clear when other counties make changes.

As for how many elderly or disabled homeowners might qualify if the Legislature passes the law? "No way to predict," Anderson said. "Because we don't keep the income records for everybody in the county."

The exemptions proposed by the draft of the law apply only to county property taxation.

"It doesn't mean that you're going to get 50% off your town taxes or 50% off your school taxes. Each of those jurisdictions have to set their income ranges," she said.

Even each jurisdiction has to opt into the state's standards. While some have made adjustments over the years, Anderson said jurisdictions don't always go to the maximum income limits possible.

She said her office thought about it differently. "If you're going to increase it, you might as well increase it to what the highest limits were over 10 years ago, because who knows when they would be adjusted again in the future," she said.

Staff writer Mary Catalfamo can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or mary.catalfamo@lee.net. Find her on Twitter @mrycatalfamo.

Proposed county tax exemptions

The specific exempt percentage of assessed home value is detailed in the draft of the law as follows:

Up to $29,000 = 50%

Up to $29,999 = 45%

Up to $30,999 = 40%

Up to $31,999 = 35%

Up to $32,899 = 30%

Up to $33,799 = 25%

Up to $34,699 = 20%

Up to $35,599 = 15%

Up to $36,499 = 10%

Up to $37,399 = 5%

Mary Catalfamo

Crime/courts reporter

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