Eligibility assistance for Waynesboro property tax relief

tax-newThe Waynesboro Senior Advocacy Commission in conjunction with the Disability Services Board is reaching out to Waynesboro city residents who are eligible for relief from property taxes. There will be an information session held at the Waynesboro Senior Center on Tuesday, April 7, 3pm featuring Commissioner of the Revenue, Don Coffey. The deadline for relief application submissions is 1 Mayeach year and eligibility is not automatically renewed.

There are now three basic qualifications for property tax relief: one for the elderly and disabled which is granted based upon a scale that weighs income and assets; another that provides total relief for disabled veterans with service connected disabilities regardless of income; and a more recent eligibility is for spouses of service members killed in action during military service.

Last year about 180 Waynesboro homeowners applied for and received relief. Some 240 applied. Disqualification typically is caused by exceeding the income or asset limits. Waynesboro’s limits are lower than those in the adjacent jurisdictions of Augusta County and Staunton. (Waynesboro’s household income limit is $27,000. Staunton $30,000; Augusta County $40,000.) All of these jurisdictions are considered by HUD as in the same economic and demographic region for low income projections. Within limits set by the Virginia Legislature the local jurisdictions have the authority to determine eligibility. Current Waynesboro eligibility limits have not been publicly reviewed by the City Council in more than four years.

The Commission and Board members are concerned that residents who are eligible are not aware of the program, do not understand the application process, and/or are unaware that they must apply each year to continue eligibility. By law the city treasurer puts information about property tax relief on the back of the tax bill. But that is simply a notification of availability and there is no automatic notification of eligibility except for those who qualified the previous year. There is no way to determine eligibility except for self-identification.

The application for relief can be very daunting. It used to be four pages long and uses terminology that isn’t commonly used. The length of the form has been reduced to two pages, but still is best filled out with assistance from personnel in the office of the Commissioner of the Revenue. The form has to be signed in front of the Commissioner, his Deputy, or a notary. Note that if it is signed in front of a notary there is no guarantee that the application is correct. Applications are reviewed in the Commissioner’s office and when there are errors, the staff attempts to notify the applicants to come down to the office. Completing the application with assistance in the office will avoid that extra step.

More than 17% of Waynesboro residents are over 65. 19.9% of the total population lives below the federal poverty level. Some back of the envelope calculations result in an estimate of 296 homeowners eligible for property tax relief based upon income out of some 8,700 total Waynesboro households.

Net worth is the other factor considered in the age and disability determinations. Financial net worth used does not include the value of the home or land of the primary residence. Liabilities are counted against assets. As with the income limits, Waynesboro’s asset limits are less than those of the adjacent jurisdictions. (Waynesboro’s net worth limit is $60,000. Staunton $62,500; Augusta County $100,000.)

In round numbers, this relief for 150 city residents costs the city about $100,000 out of a $40,000,000 budget. 20 or so people qualified for the veterans’ relief. Those 20 amount to around $40,000 in relief. Total relief represents about a third of a percent of the total budget. While a negligible impact for the city, it is not insignificant to those receiving the relief; it is bread and milk, accounting for up to 10% or more of the household disposable income.