The City of Norfolk is scaling back a tax relief program for the elderly and disabled. According to an article in The Virginian-Pilot, the budget which goes into effect July 1 places a $6 million cap on the program, which cost $7.5 million this year.
Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I once served on the Norfolk’s Equalization Board. (I left at the end of my term in 2005.) I happened to have been there during the rapid increase in real estate assessments and, in that role, appealed to the Norfolk Council to increase its limits for participation in tax relief program. At the time, our board was seeing far too many seniors for whom the increasing taxes – recall Norfolk was one of the last cities in Hampton Roads to reduce the tax rate, despite the increasing assessments – were a tremendous burden. At the time, Norfolk had the lowest limits in the region, resulting in few participants. The article states that the program cost $2.1 million in 2000, which seems about right.
Norfolk did increase its limits. But the General Assembly raised the limits even further, finally ending up with relief to those with incomes up to $67,000 and assets, not including the home, of $350,000 or less. (As recently as 2006, 100% relief only applied to those with income of $19,228 with partial relief for those with incomes up to $50,000 and assets of $200,000 or less.) As it stands now, 100% relief applies to those with incomes of $28,611 or less.
Let’s be honest: $350,000 in assets today is a whole lot more than it was a few years ago, even without a home. Personally, I always felt that figure, combined with $67,000 in income, was too high. (Note that the income figure is a household income figure and includes Social Security benefits.) The $50,000/$200,000 seemed about right to me. So the reduction, at least in my mind, appears to be appropriate. And knowing that those who qualify for 100% relief will not be affected is good.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Jillian Nolan’s article, though, is the move from the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office to the city’s human services department. I’m not aware of this program ever having been administered by the city. I’d love to hear why the move was made. Could it be something as simple as that the city can run the program with fewer resources than what it is paying to the Commissioner’s office to do so?
Could it be that folks in Norfolk are finally realizing that we really don’t need a Commissioner and a Treasurer?