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Tax director wants to help you pay

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By Leslee Kulba –

Tuesday, the Buncombe County Commissioners convened a public hearing on their budget. No new information was presented. County Manager Wanda Greene rehashed the same list of budget-expanding expenditures she presented at the last meeting and at the commissioners’ retreat. The only thing that came close to resembling an explanation for why nothing could be cut came from Commissioner Joe Belcher. He referenced small change the county won’t be wasting by requiring nonprofits seeking outside agency funding to be more accountable. Other than that, he said it was great the way the commissioners worked together.

Rehashing what has been said in prior years, Gary Roberts, the county’s tax director, explained the last thing the county wanted to do was cause a person to lose their home. To the average citizen, there is an obvious solution. But just as legion government programs can’t figure out what teenage girls must do to avoid pregnancy, taxing authorities seek balm to ease the symptoms they cause.

Roberts, who for some reason was not referred to by his former nickname as the Compassionate Tax Collector, said the county offered a number of options to help citizens pay taxes. They can arrange payment plans, or pay by credit or debit card, payroll deductions, or automatic bank drafts. The presentation almost had the air of a distraction from any kind of discussion about tough decisions to cut budgetary excess.

Already, 42 percent of land in downtown Asheville is tax-exempt. Yet, Roberts encouraged interested parties to take advantage of two property tax exemptions and two deferment options. In order to qualify, interested parties must complete an application. It is not as if shifting the tax burden onto half the population won’t encourage more people to find themselves disabled or otherwise qualified for a break.

The State of North Carolina allows certain of its residents sixty-five and older and residents totally and physically disabled to qualify for an exemption valued at $25,000 or 50 percent of their property tax assessment. Those who are physically disabled must have a note signed by a physician. In both cases, household income for the previous year cannot exceed $28,100.

The state also allows US veterans with a permanent and total disability attributable to their service to take a property tax exemption of up to $45,000. Widows of these veterans who do not remarry are also eligible. Interested parties must complete form NCDVA-9, available from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Those who qualify for the first exemption may also qualify for a deferment, but not both. General Statutes allow elderly and disabled persons, as previously specified, who have owned and occupied the property in question for at least five years, to defer tax payment. For household incomes less than or equal to $28,100, taxes in excess of 4 percent of income may be deferred. For household incomes over $28,100 but less than or equal to $42,150, taxes in excess of 5 percent of income may be deferred.

A lien will be taken against the property for the deferred amount. Taxes may be deferred year after year, and the last three years’ liens will become payable whenever the owner ceases to use the property as his permanent residence. The deadline to apply was June 1.

Deferments are also available, under certain conditions, for land used for agriculture, horticulture, and forestry. The deferment is equal to the difference between the assessment for the highest and best use of the land and its assessment as farm property. When property is no longer used in accordance with the agreement, the deferred amount for the current year and the last three years becomes due with interest. Applications are only accepted in January.

To qualify for an agricultural exemption, the property owner must be actively engaged in agricultural activities on a tract of at least ten acres. He, or a member of his family, must have owned and occupied the land for at least four years prior to the application date. At least $1000 per year for each of the three years immediately preceding the application must be collected from agricultural sales or government compensation for not growing things. A “sound management program” for the property is required.

The same applies for horticulture land, and it applies for a forestland with two exceptions. The tract must be at least twenty acres, and instead of engaging in $1000 worth of forestry business each year, an unspecified amount of logging must occur in accordance with the “sound management program.”

Roberts did not mention nonprofit exemptions of historical deferments. Landowners may enjoy a fifty percent tax deferment if they can obtain a historical designation for their property. To qualify, interested parties need the Historical Property Commission to adopt a local ordinance. The deferment will not become due until the property loses its historical designation. Applications are only accepted in January.

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