Change in real estate tax relief will affect some in city

Posted: January 6, 2014

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — City residents accustomed to getting real estate tax relief because they are over 65 or disabled might want to get their applications in early this year.

In August, City Council unanimously approved changes expected to cut the total amount of relief provided under the program nearly in half. That means relief might be cut or eliminated for some taxpayers who received it in the past.

“For this year for those who don’t know how the changes will affect them, we can help them go over their application,” Commissioner of the Revenue Ann Burkholder said. “For someone used to getting full relief who’s going to have a partial or full bill to pay, it’s nice to have as much notice as possible so they can go ahead and plan for that.”

The amendments to City Code reduced to $75,000 the combined financial worth — excluding their residence — that relief-seeking taxpayers can have. The previous threshold was $200,000.

Households making $40,000 or more cannot receive relief now, an amount below Winchester’s median income of $45,959 according to the U.S. Census Bureaus’s American Community Survey. The old limit was $50,000.

Also, a maximum of $1,500 in relief per taxpayer was set. Previously there was no limit on the relief one could receive.

The changes do not affect the real estate tax exemption for 100 percent permanently and totally disabled veterans Virginia voters approved in 2012.

Relief applications with complete documentation must be filed on or before April 1.

Virginia allows localities the option of whether or not to provide the relief, Burkholder told the councilors in June as they considered moving forward with the changes. Harrisonburg, Staunton, Waynesboro and Lexington — cities Winchester often uses for comparison — all offer relief, but their programs were far less generous than the city’s.

She said that in 2013, nearly 400 homeowners received approximately $500,000 in tax relief in amounts of as much as $4,000. That is roughly 2 percent of the $25.5 million the city billed for real estate taxes.

Under the new parameters, Burkholder said about 275 taxpayers will receive approximately $260,000 in relief.

Taxpayers with household incomes of $25,000 or less still are eligible for a 100 percent exemption, a standard Burkholder suggested the councilors set so the most needy would receive relief.

A note has been added to the application form this year informing taxpayers that the program has changed and offering assistance. She said her staff members can consult with taxpayers over the phone or in person.

As a courtesy, Burkholder said applications were mailed to previous relief recipients and some already have filed them.

“As with most programs,” she said, “we do get a pretty good rush at the start from people who want to apply right away because it’s so important to them. We also have a final rush right at the deadline.”

Because a completed application and all applicable documentation must be filed on or before April 1, Burkholder said she encourages taxpayers to file early to give them time to respond in case extra documentation is needed.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com