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October 13, 2005

The Other Side of The Coin

John W. Ashbury

Do you realize how easy it is to become a "greedy geezer?" Apparently to some, all you have to do is reach three score and five and to remain in the house you have bought and paid for.

A local pundit proudly wrote recently that he had bought his wife a new car - a Mercedes Benz, used though it was - to celebrate her birthday. He should be commended for thinking enough of her to lavish such an expensive gift on her.

But then he turns around and says that "middle-class seniors pushing for a perpetual property tax freeze" are "greedy geezers." Well, I'm here to tell you that I happily fall into that group of civic minded residents of Frederick County who happen to think enough is enough.

Our county commissioners have had great difficulty over the past three years in saying "NO" to anyone, no matter what is being sought. Just this past budget cycle they were confronted with a $26 million plus budget surplus. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they provided a $100 property tax credit for all owners of residential property who lived in their homes. A big whoop! Cost them a mere $3 million from that huge surplus.

To Lennie Thompson's credit, he voted against most of the spending requests this past year, just as he has done through most of his service as a county commissioner. His fellow public servant, Mike Cady, joined him in attempting to reduce the property tax rate to the constant yield, but their colleagues disagreed and spent all the money they could get their hands on.

Now there is a clamor for some real tax relief for our senior citizens, me included, who don't want to sell their homes and move away from their environs, family and friends. Too many have already had to do so.

The price of housing in Frederick County is becoming unaffordable for far too many of our children. They are buying in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and in Washington County. Prices there are lower than here, another unintended consequence of the rush to stop growth here. And taxes are lower there as well.

In some counties in Virginia, and elsewhere, taxes for seniors are frozen at the amount they were paying when they turned 65. These are not tax deferment programs like our commissioners want to impose.

Our government leaders want to "defer" the increase in property tax payments until the house is sold after the senior citizen dies or enters a nursing home. In addition, they want to add a three percent interest charge as well.

Sure, that means that the county would receive a windfall every year. But it also means that the heirs of these seniors will receive less from the estate of their loved ones. You could call it a "death tax." Sort of like the old estate tax the federal government imposed once upon a time - and may again.

A friend of mine bought a new house nearly two years ago from a local builder and paid $250,000 - in round figures. An exact duplicate house, without a finished basement but on a larger lot, sold this summer for $420,000. Both house are in Frederick County and were built by the same builder.

My friend says that if he had to pay the current property tax rate on that amount he would be forced to sell his home and leave the county he loves. He is a senior citizen and has an income less than $55,000 per year.

Please remember that all the money the county collects from property taxes goes to the Board of Education of Frederick County, plus an additional sum of nearly $23 million. This fiscal year the county financial gurus estimated property tax revenues at $176,445,250. The commissioners allocated $199,101,307 to the BOE.

My friend and all the other senior citizens living here have happily paid their property taxes through their working lives. They have already paid to educate not only their own children, but the children of others for more than 40 years. Isn't it time they got a break?

Of course, there will be those who think seniors have too much and the government should take it away from them and give it to someone else - or at least to benefit someone else.

Our seniors don't frequent our parks like they used to.

They don't drive on out streets as much as they used to.

They don't use or need police protection as much as they used to. Etc., Etc., Etc.

And they are not asking that they stop paying property taxes.

All they are asking is that their property taxes be frozen at the level they were when they turned 65. Of course, if they move into a smaller house, but with higher taxes, they would then pay the new taxes, but they would be frozen until they die or the house is sold for some other reason.

Health costs are rising faster than property taxes for the occupants of a lot of homes. Income isn't rising to meet those needs.

This is a way that government can give back to those who have given so much through the years - and we're not talking just property taxes here.

All of this is just a rant because a local columnist called me a "greedy geezer." Name calling is the bastion of the ill informed.

Welcome to the club of Golden Agers. We are informed - and will continue to learn.

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