Council requests additional information on senior tax exemption

Senior West U residents came out in numbers to Monday’s city council meeting. The seniors no doubt wanted to hear council’s decision on whether or not to raise the senior tax exemption.

To their dismay, the council took no action on the request and instead asked for more in-depth information on the subject before ultimately deciding to raise the exemption from $185,000 to $243,000.

Raising the senior tax exemption would affect the tax rate by $44 per household in the 2017 tax year, according to Michelle Moore, the Senior Board Chair.

Ultimately, the council could not make a decision on the matter at the meeting.

“Tonight’s vote is not whether or not to approve,” said West U City Manager Christopher Peifer. “But rather whether council wants to direct staff to bring back an amended ordinance which may reflect any type of change.”

The request to raise the exemption comes from the city’s Senior Services Board. Before council deliberated on the matter ,Moore gave a presentation on the history of the city’s exemption and the city’s property tax as it applies to the exemption.

According to the presentation, West U first instituted the senior tax reduction in 1990 to help fixed-income seniors. The city council would later enacted adjustments on the reduction in 1993, 2003, and 2008.

The exemption would raise each time going from $42,850 to $72,850 then to $110,000 and finally the current exemption of $185,000.

Four residents spoke on the matter before council deliberated with three favoring the raising of the exemption and one opposing it. The sole oppose brought to light the notion that if the exemption is raised, the the taxes will come from the young residents.

Council member Bob Kelly agrees.

“It shifts to the younger people who are under 65 and they’re gonna have to pay for it,” said Kelly.

Mayor Susan Sample echoed Kelly’s remarks and proposed putting the issue up for a vote and letting the public decide.

“That’s a big adjustment because someone does pay it,” said Sample. “We don’t just pull $250,000 from the budget and not spend it anymore. We have to make it up somewhere else and we are asking other people to shoulder that.”

Of the surrounding cities, West U senior tax exemption is the highest. Bellaire’s is $135,000, while Houston’s is $160,000.

“Only 40 percent of the cities offer senior programs and we’re one of them,” Peifer told the council. “We also provide the discounts and when you add all this up together you’re looking at between staff and services plus the discounts probably looking at upwards cost of $500,000 annually.”

West U also offers deferral of taxes and payment plan option on the taxes.

In the end, the city council has until July 1, 2016 to make a decision in order to impact the next tax cycle.