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Tax Break For Seniors Debated Kootenai County Commissioners’ Action Needed To Initiate Property Tax Deferral

Mon., March 24, 1997

For Evelyn Bullington, it’s bad enough that property taxes seem to constantly rise.

It’s worse that Social Security payments don’t.

The result is an ever-widening gap between what some senior citizens have and what they owe.

“I’ve seen people lose their homes because their taxes are so high,” said Bullington, a Post Falls resident.

In response, state legislators last week passed a property tax exemption bill aimed at giving Idaho residents over 62 a break on property taxes.

But critics - including some area seniors - contend the legislation could create more problems than it’d fix.

Additionally, the bill means nothing unless action is taken by Kootenai County commissioners. And at this point, they’re not inclined to do a thing.

Even Commissioner Ron Rankin - longtime property tax foe, leader of the state’s tax-limiting One Percent Initiative and a senior citizen himself - considers the measure worthless.

“It’s supposed to be a feel-good bill,” Rankin said. “But I don’t feel good about it.”

The legislation - not yet signed into law - would let commissioners pass an ordinance allowing seniors to defer property tax payments. Seniors would be eligible if they owned their homes free and clear, have lived in them five years or more and met income and asset limits.

When the house is sold, accrued property taxes would be paid out of the proceeds of the sale. If the homeowner dies, taxes would be paid by the estate.

“I think it’s probably a good idea,” Bullington said.

Some seniors figure their sheer numbers in Kootenai County require the county commissioners to take a good look at passing a tax deferral law. As the county’s tourist trade has blossomed, it has become a haven for retirees looking for a quiet community to settle in.

People age 60 and over made up 17 percent of Kootenai County’s population in 1995, according to the state’s Center for Vital Statistics and Health Policy. That’s 15,058 people.

One-time California resident Bill Bowman, 65, said he’s seen some of those seniors get “sucked in too deep” while living in a house that’s paid off, but whose value and tax burden continued to soar.

“I think this is a great idea,” he said of the tax deferral.

But Rankin and commissioner Dick Compton said the bill would merely shift the county’s tax burden to younger folks.

“If you have 1,000 older couples who would qualify at $1,000 … that’s $1 million a year,” Rankin said. “What we’ve done is reduce the income but not the cost of government. It’ll still cost the same to run the sheriff’s department, the schools, planning.”

Rankin argued that until some sort of money pool was built up, the remaining burden would be shouldered by new homeowners who already are strapped trying to buy into an expensive housing market.

Since 1990, the median price of a Kootenai County home has soared more than 80 percent, from $55,000 to about $100,000.

“It pits one generation against the next,” he said. “I don’t look at that as tax relief.”

Compton said the proposal also would “put the county in the banking business” because it would, in a sense, be loaning seniors money to pay their taxes.

“There are other, more appropriate institutions to handle that,” Compton said.

Post Falls resident Bill Barnes agreed.

“I think that sounds the same as putting a lien on your property,” the 76-year-old said. “If it’s just postponing the inevitable, I don’t think that does any good.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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