Steamboat Springs Katherine Gourley would put a new roof on her house in Steamboat Springs if a ballot issue to reduce senior citizens' property taxes is approved.
Gourley paid approximately $1,000 in property taxes this year about two months worth of her Social Security payments. The 74-year-old owner of a house on The Boulevard in Old Town Steamboat said she would probably support a tax reduction on the ballot this November.
The state Legislature referred the property tax cut to the ballot. It would benefit senior citizens who have lived in the home that is their primary residence for more than 10 years. The proposed initiative would exempt anyone 65 years old or older from 50 percent of their property tax on houses valued at $200,000 or less.
For example, Gourley's home that is valued at $183,000 would be taxed as if its value was $91,500 cutting her yearly tax from $1,000 to approximately $500. She said she would spend the difference on repairing and improving the home she bought for $40,000 in 1974.
Hayden resident Mary Wixson, 78, said she also would spend any extra money on repairing her home on County Road 69. Wixson said her property tax was approximately $300 in 1963 and is now close to $800 a year.
"It sure would help if it was cut. On a fixed income, it's hard to make ends meet sometimes," Wixson said.
One alternative for senior citizens facing high property taxes because of skyrocketing land values is to sell their homes for a profit and move somewhere with a lower cost of living. Wixson said that is not an option for her.
"I was born just across the road here," she said. "I've been here all my life and I don' t intend to move."
The latest figures from the Routt County Council on Aging show that there were 1,357 people older than 60 in the county in 1998. Program director Shelley Orrell said about half of those people lived in Steamboat, one quarter in west Routt and one quarter in south Routt.
Orrell said many senior citizens don't want to leave their homes, no matter how much they're worth.
"For those that stay, it's a real burden on their fixed incomes. It's nice that their property has increased in value so much, but it doesn't do them any good until they leave," Orrell said.
Gourley said she supports the idea of a property tax break for seniors, but she wondered who has to pay the difference. "If it's wealthy second-home owners that's OK, but a struggling family might need it more than I do," Gourley said.
The referral limits the tax break to property valued at less than $200,000. That limit should help ensure the tax break is not used by people who own large "trophy" homes. It also is only applicable to people who have lived in their home for 10 years or more as their primary residence, excluding second-home owners
Rep. Jack Taylor, who's been pushing for tax relief for longtime property owners, likes the idea of the ballot initiative especially as it relates to a place like Steamboat.
"I think it's certainly one way to keep seniors in their homes," he said. "It makes sense to me."
County Treasurer Jeanne Whiddon said the referral shouldn't negatively impact the county's finances because it spells out how local governments will be compensated for lost revenues. According to the ballot wording, the state will reimburse each governmental entity that loses property tax revenues because of the tax break to seniors.
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