House Bill 120 will clarify which disabled residents are eligible for property tax exemptions in Calhoun County and across the state. Disabled residents here haven’t paid property taxes since Calhoun County Revenue Commissioner Karen Roper began adhering to an attorney general’s opinion that states, in effect, all disabled residents should be exempt from paying property taxes, regardless of income.
Before the opinion was rendered, about 2,000 county residents were exempt from paying property taxes. The next year, that number doubled.
Now all residents with disabilities are exempt from taxes if one or both adult spouses are disabled. That means that many financially able residents pay no property taxes, officials said.
Information on file in the Calhoun County Revenue Commissioner’s office revealed that some residents who make $60,000, $90,000 and $200,000 do not pay this tax.
Officials said that draws money away from education, municipal and county revenue funds.
The bill also addresses another group exempt from paying property taxes — the elderly. But, as the law is currently applied in Calhoun County, it’s not as generous to those who are over 65 as it is to the disabled.
Only the elderly who make less than $7,500 annually are exempt from paying property taxes. This means, for example, that one single elderly woman in Calhoun County who makes roughly $15,000 each year is paying property taxes while someone who makes five times as much — but are disabled — pays none at all.
Roper is one of the many who do not pay taxes due to a disability. In her case, it’s because of her husband.
Roper chose to abide by the Attorney General’s opinion about how the law applies to disabled Alabamians because she felt it was the right thing to do, even though it is not required by law that she follow the opinion. Roper also said that she chose to follow the opinion to avoid the repercussions of a class-action lawsuit, should one arise.
Roper also chose to follow a separate Attorney General’s opinion that states disabled people who paid property taxes were due a refund for up to two years.
Roper’s decisions saved taxpayers money, but kept funds from the county’s coffers which were depleted in the last fiscal year.
For the first time in 40 years the county failed to make revenue projections for its ad valorem tax collections, said Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner.
“That’s our bread and butter,” Joiner said.
In the same year its $14.5 million budget fell short by about $500,000 or 2.5 percent. That means the county lost the same amount of money it usually gains.
A dip in property tax collections not only affects the county, it also affects the school systems and municipalities. All depend on property tax revenue.
Just $11.1 million of the $42 million in property tax revenue collected in Roper’s office went to the county. The rest was dispersed among various government entities.
But the dip in property tax can’t be attributed to any one factor.
“It could be any number of things,” Roper said
Joiner said if the bill is passed it would help the county, though it wouldn’t make up for the shortfall the county experienced last year. The government also lost revenue from other revenue funds, but it would help, he added.
Roper said she doesn’t support the bill as written. The threshold for those who are exempt was set in the 1970s and is too low, she said.
And given the lingering economic woes, now would be difficult time to ask more of local residents, she added, because so many are without jobs.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@ LJohnson_Star.