Dramatic growth in property values over the past decade in key areas of the state has pushed taxes on the homes of longtime residents out of sight, and the state Senate moved in on Tuesday with some help.
By nearly a 5-to-1 ratio, the Senate voted to let county commissions to indefinitely defer property taxes for middle- and low-income senior citizens, who have seen annual taxes on homes they bought 30 or 40 years ago exceed the original purchase price.
Democrat Clint Stennett of Ketchum called it an “attempt to protect the most vulnerable segment of our society - senior citizens, who through no fault of their own are being taxed out of their homes … by wealthy urban refugees who are willing to pay sky-high prices for property.”
Escalating property values have been a major problem in Sandpoint, Coeur d’Alene, McCall, the Teton Valley of eastern Idaho and central Idaho’s Wood River Valley where Stennett is from.
“It’s a travesty to force these pioneers to sell their property,” he said. “These people didn’t contribute to the speculation that has fueled the growth that is forcing them out.”
The bill leaves the decision to provide tax deferral for homeowners 65 and older who have applied for the state’s circuit-breaker property tax relief program up to individual county commissions. If granted, the unpaid taxes would become a lien on the property recoverable upon its sale or the death of the owners. The lien would not extend to the owner’s estate.
It is a refined version of the bill that cleared the Senate 23-10 two years ago only to be bottled up in the House tax committee.
But even though the bill requires the counties to do nothing - leaving the decision on any relief up to them - the Idaho Association of Counties has opposed it.
“Although it is permissive legislation,” Republican Sen. Bob Lee of Rexburg said, “they can see tremendous pressure coming on them to implement it, and they just don’t want to deal with it.”
Lee was joined by Republicans Ric Branch of Midvale, Robert Geddes of Soda Springs, Robbi King of Glenns Ferry, Moon Wheeler of American Falls and Don Burtenshaw of Monteview in opposing the bill.
The downside to counties is the loss of tax revenue, but supporters said the social good it offers if implemented outweighs that.
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