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Tax-exempt level for elderly set at $18,500

Cattaraugus County's senior citizens can earn as much as $18,500 and remain eligible for a partial county property tax exemption in 2008 as the result of an increase in earning limits adopted Wednesday by the County Legislature.

Since 2004, property owners over age 65 have seen 50 percent county real property tax exemptions based on a maximum annual income of $17,500. In many of the county's towns and villages the local exemptions are sometimes raised to follow the county's example, while school districts also grant exemptions with varying limitations.

County legislators review the exemption every two years and consider a $1,000 increase, and homeowners apply for the exemption through their town assessor's office. This year, legislators briefly debated granting a $20,000 or larger increase in the earning maximum due to low income levels for seniors.

Legislators delayed taking action in committees in June until they had more information, learning that the county has seen few numbers of seniors taking advantage of the exemptions in recent years.

The county's records show that about 173 fewer seniors took the age exemption as seen on the 2007 assessment roll when compared with the 2005 assessment roll. At that time, 1,527 seniors applied for and received the exemption on property valued at $22.7 million. The 2007 assessment roll allowed $268,875 in exemptions, about $20,000 less than in 2005, but the reason for the drop was not known.

The new law raises the income level to $18,500 beginning Jan. 1. A public hearing on the law was held Wednesday during the legislative session, but there were no comments from the public, and lawmakers voted in unison for passage.

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