Seniors still miss out on tax exemptions


A Parrish man has learned the hard way that senior exemptions are given to people over age 65, although for those who don't keep up with that, thousands of dollars could be paid to government that they could keep. 

Revenue Commissioner Jerry Guthrie is sympathetic. His own mother even overlooked the exemption at first - despite the fact that the exemption is suggested on property tax bills mailed out to the public. 

"I think my mother was probably close to 80 before she ever got hers. I didn't realize she didn't have it," he said. 

It's not known how many are cheating themselves by not coming to sign up, as Guthrie's office doesn't know ages when people come in. Moreover, he noted when people come to pay property taxes, they come in such a large number of people there is not much time to advise people on looking into an exemption. 

"We may have them lined out the door," he said, adding in those high traffic days such needs are lost in the shuffle. 

Ed Caldwell of Parrish — who will be 77 next week - only recently learned of the exemption himself. He kept paying property taxes well past 65.

"I've been living here close to 40 years and I've paid it every year," he said Tuesday. 

He said he estimates since 65 he has paid $3,142 to the office. 

"A lot of old guys like me, there is no telling how much they have paid into Walker County for nothing," he said. "I worked all these years trying to take care of my family, and come to find out that is $3,000 I could have used on my family." 

Once he found out about the exemption from a friend, he talked to some clerks at Guthrie's office to confirm the information. As his brother just turned 65, he noted he told him recently; the brother is now signing up for his exemption. 

Asked about it on Tuesday, Guthrie said as far as people coming into the office, "We have 30,000 people. We have no idea about people's ages." 

He noted the exemption has repeatedly been publicized in the Daily Mountain Eagle over the years, as well as in brochures he has printed and handed out in the thousands that give details about property taxes and his office. He noted the brochures are popular and that many people pick up a free copy, especially at tax time when they are lined up. 

Also, on the printed property tax bills that go out, one part of the bill states, "Are you 65 years of age or older, blind and/or totally disabled? If so, you may qualify for additional exemptions. Please contact our office before December 31st to qualify." 

Guthrie pointed out in the booklet, under "Homestead Exemption," that Homestead Exemption 3 is available for those who are retired due to permanent and total disability regardless of age - and for those age 65. 

"This exemption is from all property taxes if the combined net taxable income of the taxpayer and his or her spouse is $12,000 or less on their most recent federal income tax return," the booklet said. 

A lesser exemption is Homestead Exemption 4, which involves those over 65 but have more than $12,000 in income on their most recent Alabama Income Tax Return. This allows them to be exempt from all of the state portion of the property tax and "receive the regular homestead exemption ($2,000 assessed value) on county taxes." 

For example, because of retirement money his mother had coming, she only qualified for a partial exemption for being over $12,000. 

"We had one person who was 102 and he couldn't be totally exempt," Guthrie said. "He fell under Class 4." 

He also said there are thousands of people who get total exemption from being disabled.

Those who get the exemption have to fill out a short form each year to get recertification for their exemption, he said, noting the form can be mailed to the person and mailed back. 

However, he said people have to request the form. "We don't have records on people's ages to do that," he said. 

Guthrie said sometimes people just don't take time to get the exemption.

"I have had a friend who is over 65 for two years, and I told him two years ago, 'You'll be able to sign for this,'" Guthrie said. "He said, 'Ah, it's probably not worth the little bit you would get out of it."

And then there are people who don't want to sign up as they are simply not trustful of the government.  "They just want to pay their taxes," he said. 

Guthrie said he has had more luck with the brochures he hands out, which has been given out at nursing homes, real estate agents, and others. The booklets include the county's millage rates and instructions for computing one's taxes, the process for taxation of property, the timetable and method of payment for taxes, and contact numbers for the department. 

Some information is also on the department's website, 

Guthrie said there is no way for people like Caldwell to get their money back. "In fact, if they sign up this year, they won't be eligible (for the exemption) until next year," he said. 

Later Tuesday, Guthrie and Caldwell said that they talked about the matter in Guthrie's office that afternoon. Guthrie said Caldwell can sign up for a partial exemption.

While Caldwell said he wasn't getting money back, he was satisfied with the explanation and is hopeful other seniors can get signed up early. 

Anyone wanting more information may call Guthrie's office at 384-7000, or they may come by the office Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. They may also pick up Guthrie's booklet for free at the office.