Thursday, November 13, 2008

Real Estate Tax Relief

Over the past two months, our economy has faced serious challenges (understatement). The financial markets have taken serious hits, the housing market nationally has been laden with foreclosures caused in large part by subprime lending, and the pension and retirement accounts of a vast number of people have suffered significant losses. While we can do little to control the financial or housing markets, there is something we can do to help many folks who have seen a lifetime of hardwork and retirement savings diminish.

Many seniors and disabled citizens of Roanoke are on fixed incomes. Often, these two groups subsidize their Social Security (SSI or SSDI) with money they saved during their working lives through pensions or other accounts. Suddenly, with these accounts significantly reduced, it is becoming increasingly difficult for these folks to continue to meet their financial obligations, such as mortgages, health care costs, utility costs etc.

Roanoke City offers real estate tax relief for the elderly and disabled who qualify - currently those who earn less than $34,000 per year gross income or have a net worth of less than $125,000. Those who meet these income or net worth requirements may apply to the City to have their real estate taxes "frozen," meaning that the amount the household pays in real estate taxes remains the same as long as the requirements are met each year. This is hugely important for those on fixed incomes, primarily seniors and the disabled, who can little afford increasing property taxes each year.

Due to the declining retirement and pension account values, I believe it more important than ever to increase the limit at which seniors and the disabled qualify, as many who subsidized their fixed incomes to pay their taxes or the other previously mentioned living expenses simply cannot continue this way. Fortunately, we are able to increase these limits to $42,000 per year gross income and $160,000 per year net worth. This should, and I believe it will, offer additional tax relief to many of the most vulnerable in our City.

Vice Mayor Sherman Lea, who has, from the outset been supportive of this change in City policy, and I, with the support of the rest of City Council, worked to increase these limits so that many of our residents can afford to stay in their homes and pay for those items necessary for their continued quality of life. I want to thank Vice Mayor Lea - without his support I am not sure this would be occurring.

The City will lose some revenue, most likely in the lower hundreds of thousands (maybe $200,000), though it is hard to forecast exactly how much because the City does not keep income or net worth statistics of our residents. But I believe this is the right thing to do - to help our senior citizens and disabled citizens remain in their homes with the ability to afford life's essentials. Cutting a few hundred thousand dollars of spending elsewhere, in my opinion, is minor compared to the relief many in our community desperately need. This is the good that government can do for its residents.

The following is the motion offered at City Council's regular session:

Real Estate Tax Relief for Elderly & Disabled Residents
of the City of Roanoke

That the City Manager and City Attorney prepare an Ordinance to be adoptedat the December 1, 2008 City Council meeting that increases the limits atwhich Senior citizens and Disabled citizens in Roanoke City qualify forreal estate tax relief from the current limits of $34,000 per year grossincome and $125,000 net worth, to $42,000 per year gross income and$160,000 net worth.

This increase in gross income and net worth limits should provide relief to additional residents, many of whom have fixed incomes, and expresses thesense of the City Council that, given current economic conditions and thesignificant decline in pension and retirement accounts, Senior citizens andDisabled citizens, who have little opportunity or ability to return to theworkforce, face increasingly difficult financial times. Raising limits forreal estate tax relief is the City's effort to acknowledge and address thesignificant hardships these two groups of citizens are experiencing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


While I committed a while back to not discussing national political issues but instead to keep this blog focused locally and on Roanoke City, I do feel the need to comment on the election results of yesterday in a broader context.

There's been a lot of talk about the history-making nature of Barack Obama's victory to become our 44th President, and I'm sure this talk will continue. It was only 45 years ago that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream speech." And it was only a year before that that LBJ pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress.

Yesterday showed just how far our country has come in the last 50 years. As many of us have discussed this election for some time now, it has impressed me a great deal that even friends of mine who did not support Obama and do not like many of his policies recognize and appreciate the historic nature of an African-American being elected president.

Hopefully the Obama message of bipartisanship and progress will help to unite Washington, and that the 2008 Democratic sweep of Congress does not in the end prove problematic as it did for the 1994 Republican takeover. Both parties need to work together, avoid becoming greedy with power, and try to accomplish positive policies that help the most people.