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Council Finds Few Take Tax Relief

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Last year an applicant's income could be no more than $40,000, and his or her assets could be no more than $100,000, excluding the value of the applicant's house and land, in order to qualify for the minimum16 percent reduction in their tax bill. Council raised the income limit to $50,000 and the asset limit to $200,000, which would qualify a homeowner for a minimum 10 percent tax reduction.

Homeowners who make less than $12,000 with less than $37,000 in assets don't have to pay any property taxes if they're enrolled in the program.

In 2004, the city received 2,336 applications for the program, including those previously enrolled. Fifty-four applicants were deemed ineligible and rejected. In all, the city spent $1.7 million on the tax relief program.

The deadline for applying this year was June 15. In 2005, the city received 2,857 applications, which included 1,477 new applicants and 1,380 seeking to re-enroll. Thirty were rejected. "So the total number is up, and the number of rejections is down," says Bill Farrar, the mayor's press secretary. This year, the city will spend about $2.3 million on tax relief.

Far more people would have applied if they had known about the program, some council members say. Fifth District Councilman Marty Jewell says, "There has to be a better way to inform people that this program exists and how they're eligible for it."

It fell to council members to spread the word in town meetings and newsletters. In Graziano's district, about 200 people requested applications from her office after hearing about the program at a meeting. Jewell says he placed handouts about the program at churches and grocery stores. There's information online about the program, but it contains the old asset limits.

Graziano's liaison, David Hathcock, suggests the city find out how many people might be eligible, then try to reach them through letters or even notices enclosed with utility bills. The council will make a priority of getting the city to publicize the tax relief next year, Jewell says. "Count on it." — Melissa Scott Sincalir



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