The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Editor's note: This version of the article correctly states that the homestead exemption is a $25,000 reduction on taxable property values.
Mayoral candidate Anita Lopez on Tuesday attacked a little-discussed provision in the new state budget eliminating the homestead exemption for most future applicants, and tried to link opponent Mayor Mike Bell with the change, which she dubbed “heartless.”
Ms. Lopez initially misstated the change in the law, telling reporters that the homestead exemption — a $25,000 reduction on taxable property values for senior citizens and the permanently disabled — was eliminated in the budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by Gov. John Kasich.
In fact, the new budget reinstated “means-testing,” limiting the exemption to senior citizens with less than $30,000 income, excluding Social Security benefits. All current recipients would continue to get the discount, regardless of income.
Ms. Lopez, who is the Lucas County auditor, said she knew that means-testing was included in the new provision, but omitted mentioning it at her news conference in front of the Lucas County Courthouse because she believes that in the future only a small number of new applicants who now would qualify for the 25 percent reduction will be able to qualify under the new law.
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“I was passionate about it because it was such a blow to the program,” Ms. Lopez said, saying that she is knowledgeable because she administers the program through her office and should have provided the details at her news conference. “I failed to explain this change. This just destroyed the program as we have it now.”
Ms. Lopez challenged Mayor Bell to say that he will not use the state’s new eligibility guidelines to deny some senior citizens the discount they currently get on their water and sewer bills. She said the list of seniors who qualify for the water and sewer discount is generated from the list of seniors who qualify for the homestead exemption.
“I am very, very concerned that Mayor Bell is going to eliminate this,” Ms. Lopez said. “He’s close enough to Kasich that he should have tried to stand up to block this move.”
Jen Sorgenfrei, spokesman for Mayor Bell, said there’s been no discussion in the mayor’s office about eliminating the senior citizen discount for those seniors who won’t in the future qualify for the state’s property tax homestead exemption.
“Our rate model is based on inclusion of the senior discount, and we have no plans to change that,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said.
Mayor Bell and Ms. Lopez are among seven people collecting signatures on petitions to get on the Sept. 10 ballot. The two highest vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 5 general election.
The exemption reduces a qualifying property owner’s property valuation by $25,000, saving some homeowners as much as $300 or $400 in their tax bill, Ms. Lopez said.
Ms. Lopez, who calculates the homestead exemption for the property tax bills that are later mailed out by the county treasurer, said she did not know how much money is saved by the property tax exemption. Her spokesman later said that 35,393 Lucas County residents get the exemption, including 21,343 in Toledo.
Gary Gudmundson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Taxation, said the department estimates that 60 percent of the senior citizens who would qualify under the previous homestead exemption law would not qualify under the new law. He said Social Security benefits will not count toward the taxable income threshold.
Blade Columbus bureau chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.