Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and City Councilwoman Carol Berz spoke in front of a crowd of about 50 senior citizens Tuesday about a proposed property tax freeze.
“Particularly at this moment, our economy is improving, and that’s raising costs as well,” Berke said. “I’m hearing from senior citizens on a fixed income that when those costs go up but your income stays the same, it puts a pinch on each and every one of you.”
The proposed budget for 2018 that will be presented to the Chattanooga City Council Tuesday night includes the property tax freeze for senior citizens. Voting to approve the budget will not occur until early September.
Homeowners who qualify for the program will have the property taxes on their principal residence frozen at a base tax amount, which is the amount of taxes owed in the year they first qualify for the program, according to the Tennessee Treasury.
To qualify for the program, an applicant must own their home, be 65 years or older at the end of the year an application is filed and make less than $38,750 a year per household.
Currently, only city residents are eligible.
“The state law enacts counties and municipalities to set up the program, which is done separately,” spokeswoman Marissa Bell said via email. “Currently, Hamilton County is not participating. So it would just be the city for now once council approves it.”
As long as the owner continues to qualify for the program, the amount of property taxes owed for that property will not change, even if there is a property tax rate increase, according to the Tennessee Treasury.
Berz said this is something that should have happened a long time ago, but that now the city is in the right position to make it happen.
“This is a wonderful move that the city is making,” she said. “The City Council is behind this.”
The state voted in 2007 to allow counties and municipalities to have the option to enact a tax freeze for senior citizens. Berke now considers it a priority for the city to protect its senior citizens from rising costs.
“[I’m] excited about what a senior citizen tax freeze can do for our city,” he said.
City Councilman Ken Smith said that he started the conversation about implementing a property tax freeze for seniors months ago and he’s happy to see it considered during budget hearings.
City leaders have created a solid business and tourism climate in Chattanooga, but local families need to remain the priority, and that includes protecting senior citizens, he also said.
“I appreciate that Councilwoman Berz has followed my lead by also holding a round table in her district and I look forward to having her support on the issue,” Smith also said.
For more information about the tax freeze program, click here.
Eric Wise is a contributing writer. He is currently attending UTC, where he is the assistant news editor for the school newspaper, The University Echo. He also serves as the alumni relations chairman for his fraternity.
Updated @ 7:46 a.m. on 8/2/17 for clarification.
Updated @ 3:10 p.m. on 8/2/17 to add more information.