Tax freeze for seniors

At the end of Tuesday’s Greenville City Council meeting, Councilman Al Atkins requested placing a discussion to consider freezing the property tax amount for residents aged 65 or older on the agenda for the council’s next meeting.

At the end of Tuesday’s Greenville City Council meeting, Councilman Al Atkins requested placing a discussion to consider freezing the property tax amount for residents aged 65 or older on the agenda for the council’s next meeting.

The recommendation came after several residents voiced their support for such a freeze over the course of the last two and a half months, including six who spoke in favor of it at Tuesday’s meeting.

The freeze on the tax amount for senior residents – or younger people who are disabled – that some members of the community have been advocating for in recent months is not a freeze on the property tax rate or the property’s appraised value.

It is, instead, a freeze on the tax amount itself, meaning that if a senior citizen were to take advantage of the exemption, and the amount they had to pay in city taxes the year they turned 65 was $300, then they would continue to pay $300 in city taxes year-after-year, regardless of if the tax rate or their property’s value increased.

“I have a neighbor who’s in her 70s, and she’s about to start working a second job, and there’s another down the street from me who will probably have to move in with her daughter,” Greenville resident Wayne Morris told the council during the citizens to be heard portion of Tuesday’s meeting. “People on fixed incomes need to know what they’re taxes are gonna be, so they can plan.”

Also on the topic of the challenges of keeping a home while living on a fixed income, 85-year-old resident John Clark – at the previous city council meeting on June 25 – said his “property taxes are higher than [his] social security payments” and that the roads and other infrastructure that residents of all ages use are largely “paid for by taxes from senior citizens,” and that they have “asked for little in return.”

The push to freeze the tax amount for Greenville residents aged 65 or older picked up after Greenville Independent School District President John Kelso explained in a letter to the editor that appeared in the April 23 issue of the Herald-Banner that the school district, as a taxing entity, already offers such an exemption.

Shortly after the publication of Kelso’s letter, then-Councilman James Evans suggested that the city manager and council look into the freeze as they plan the 2019-20 city budget and tax rate.

“If only one person says something, they might just be really sick, but if more people join them and say the same thing, you just might have a movement,” Evans said as a resident during the citizens to be heard part of the city council meeting Tuesday.

Back in September 2018, the council cut the city tax rate by more than 3.5 cents, from 68.9 cents per $100 valuation to 65.2 cents for every $100 that a property is worth.

The current city tax rate is also half a cent lower than the effective tax rate of 65.7 cents per $100 valuation. It was the first time in 30 years that Greenville’s city tax rate was set below the effective rate.

Since then, Greenville City Councilman Brent Money and former councilman Evans, in particular, have encouraged the council to avoid setting the city’s property tax rate above the effective rate in future budgets.

In regard to the impact that such a freeze could have on tax revenue, at the June 11 city council meeting, Greenville City Manager Summer Spurlock used data from the Greenville Independent School District since they already offer the exemption.

“Currently, there are 1,715 property owners that take advantage of the tax freeze for GISD ... and they pay the amount of taxes that they paid the year they completed the application,” Spurlock explained. “So, if they take advantage of it right when they turn 65, then that’s the amount that they pay.

“Now, if they didn’t apply until they were 68, then whatever the tax amount was when they were 68 will be where their tax amount will be frozen,” she continued. “It doesn’t work retroactively back to the amount they paid when they were 65.”

“With the current tax rate that we have now and the appraisals that Brent South (at the Hunt County Appraisal District) has at this current time, which could change ... it would lower our revenue by $127,549, that is if we kept the same tax rate, and the appraisals (hypothetically) stayed the same,” Spurlock projected.

Travis Hairgrove is a news reporter and features writer at the Herald-Banner and covers city government for many municipalities in Hunt County. To reach him outside of business hours, email THairgroveReporter@gmail.com.