Guest Opinions

Idaho seniors deserve a break on their property tax bills

While sales prices and assessed values in Ada County have climbed swiftly since 2012, some homes still sell for less than $200,000. This is CBH home in Kuna, where the builder has several developments with homes starting for less than $170,000.
While sales prices and assessed values in Ada County have climbed swiftly since 2012, some homes still sell for less than $200,000. This is CBH home in Kuna, where the builder has several developments with homes starting for less than $170,000. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Tax policy may seem like an abstract exercise to some people, but decisions made by Idaho lawmakers have real-world consequences.

Take, for instance, a couple now in their mid- to late-60s living in Kootenai, Cassia, Gooding, Shoshone or Ada County. They’ve lived and worked for decades in Idaho. Back in the late ’80s when they first got married, they bought a modest house for $80,000. They never missed a mortgage payment. They lived modestly. They raised children in that house. They planted gardens there, added on a patio, redecorated when trends changed, and buried family pets in the backyard. They slowly and steadily paid off that investment in the American Dream.

Now they cannot afford to live there anymore.

Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, and the increasing cost of real estate is creating these serious heartbreaking and profoundly unfair consequences. Rapidly increasing home values cause a property tax shift to homes, creating an unplanned retirement hardship.

Most seniors, especially retirees, are living on a fixed income that is carefully budgeted out for living expenses. Their house may be completely paid off, but they are finding that they can no longer afford to pay the property taxes. The end result? Many seniors are struggling to pay their property taxes and are being forced to sell their homes.

Although there is no tracking mechanism to determine how many seniors have been priced out of their homes, stories are starting to surface all over the state. Idahoans are asking for help. It’s way past time for state and local officials to work together to give relief to citizens who are suffering.

There is an option that does exist to give property tax relief to seniors, but it is severely outdated. The state’s Property Tax Reduction, or “Circuit Breaker,” program gives Idahoans age 65 or older (as well as other qualified people) a small break on their property taxes, but it reduces taxes only by $1,320 at the most. Last updated back in 2006, the Circuit Breaker has not been responsive to inflation, higher costs of living or increasing property values.

It’s time to step up and address the challenges that come from growth. Seniors are desperate for meaningful property tax relief. The Circuit Breaker should reflect the economic circumstances of today. There are few options for Idahoans who have seen their home value double, triple and even quadruple in just a few short years. Increasing the Circuit Breaker to $2,600 would provide much-needed relief to seniors who are struggling to keep a roof over the heads and get food on the table.

We are sensitive to Idaho seniors who are being priced out of their homes. They have spent their lives working in Idaho and paid taxes every year and are now worried about whether they will be able to live out their last years in the communities they love. Our seniors should never feel that they are being forced out or that they have no other option but to move away from the only place that they call home.

This guest opinion was submitted by Idaho Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise; Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo; Ada County Assessor Robert McQuade; Cassia County Assessor Dwight Davis; Gooding County Assessor Justin Baldwin; Kootenai County Assessor Richard Houser; Shoshone County Assessor Jerry White; and Nez Perce County Assessor Dan Anderson.
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