By Sarah Michael
Chair, Blaine County Board of Commissioners
There are steps that the Idaho Legislature can take to provide property tax relief for local residents. One concept rewards those people who compose the heart of our community, our residents. Counties with "out-of-sight property values" need the ability through a county option to increase the homeowner's exemption. Let me explain.
Residents in other parts of Idaho where it is still possible to buy a house for $100,000 are being rewarded with an exemption of $50,000. This equates to 50 percent of their home value. As you all know, a $50,000 homeowner exemption has little meaning in Blaine County. According to the National Association of Home Builders, Blaine County ranks sixth for the highest cost of homes, with our average home valued at more than $500,000. This means that the average homeowner is getting an exemption equivalent to 10 percent of their home value.
With the ability to increase the homeowner's exemption, counties can reward our residents with an exemption that is more comparable to that which the rest of Idaho homeowners are receiving. The Legislature should give Blaine County the ability to increase the homeowners exemption ... a $250,000 homeowner exemption would give residents a needed break. This level of exemption may not make sense in other counties, which is why I am suggesting a local choice.
Our senior citizens need special relief, so an increase in the circuit breaker would help. Those with incomes of less than $22,040 get state help with their property taxes. Both the income level and the amount of tax assistance should be increased. Any resident with less than $25,000 income should not be asked to pay any property taxes.
Finally, the solution that would have the greatest impact on property taxes, especially in Blaine County, is for the state Legislature to follow up on its promises to fund education. Were the state to provide schools with more money, the schools would not be eating up nearly 60 percent of every property tax dollar.
It is time for the state Legislature to give local governments funding choices and residents significant property tax relief. Let's look at making development and tourism pay for itself, increasing the homeowner exemption, senior tax assistance and providing more state funding for schools. These would all be steps in the right direction.
(Editor's Note: Part I, Property Taxes and the Cost of Growth, appeared in the Wednesday, Aug. 3, Mountain Express.)