Over-65 Homestead Exemption

RECEIVED Mon., March 17, 2014

Dear Editor,
    At today’s City Council meeting, there is an excellent chance that they will vote to phase in a gradual increase to the over-65 and disabled homestead exemption on property taxes. This is long overdue and good news for some of Austin’s longtime residents who have been crushed by skyrocketing home appraisals and never-ending property tax increases.
    However, please be aware of a potentially negative spin that you may hear regarding this issue. There is a tendency by some to over-emphasize the alleged impact that these tax exemption increases may have on other taxpayers who have not lived in Austin and payed taxes for all the many years that seniors have.
    It is most important to recognize that the city has not increased this exemption in a very long time, possibly in decades. Therefore, the value of the exemption was much higher under the original ordinance, since residential appraised values were much, much lower back then.
    The problem is that in Austin, this exemption has never been indexed to keep pace with rising home values. I would encourage everyone to please research the history of this exemption, and you will readily see my point.
    Last year, Mayor Lee Leffingwell appointed a task force on aging, which has led to the formation of Commission on Seniors. The Mayor took this action when he learned from a Brookings Institution report that Austin has the fastest-growing pre-senior population in the United States, of citizens approaching age 65. Austin also has the second fastest-growing senior population.
    As for the budget impact of increasing the over-65 homestead exemption, the city can always tighten its belt to absorb the difference, rather than allowing it to affect other taxpayers. My belt hurts quite often from the tightening that I have to do just about every single month!
Bill Oakey
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