By RICK NORTON
With Thanksgiving now just a memory and visions of sugarplums dancing atop the Yuletide horizon, Bradley County residents are finding another reason to be thankful.It’s called the partial payment …
With Thanksgiving now just a memory and visions of sugarplums dancing atop the Yuletide horizon, Bradley County residents are finding another reason to be thankful.
It’s called the partial payment program, a 7-year-old option that allows local homeowners to pay their property taxes in installments instead of the more traditional once-a-year lump sum.
According to Mike Smith, Bradley County trustee, paying property taxes annually can strain weathered wallets or overburdened checkbooks — especially among many elderly whose fixed incomes and rising healthcare costs limit their spending power.
But when a property tax payment can be divided in equal portions — much like a mortgage or car payment — then some of the financial pain is lessened.
In Bradley County, among those who use the partial payment plan, the most popular option is monthly — meaning, for example, that a $500 lump-sum amount is divided by 12, resulting in a monthly payment of about $42.
Other options are available, such as payments made quarterly, biannually or some other installment mutually agreed upon by the taxpayer and the Trustee’s Office.
Currently, the office — now operating out of a temporary location in the former SouthEast Bank building at the corner of 17th and Keith streets — is in the middle of an enrollment period for new partial payment plan participants.
This signup started in October and will continue through Friday, Dec. 8. Another registration will be held in early 2018, from Wednesday, Jan. 3, through Friday, Feb. 9.
For those signing up for partial payment, or who have previously signed up, the first tax payment for 2018 will be due March 15.
Those who are already partial payment participants do not have to re-register. Only if they had previously canceled out of the program, but now wish to re-enter it, do they have to re-enroll.
Since the start of the newest enrollment period a few weeks ago, the traffic in and out of the temporary Trustee’s Office has been consistent, Smith said.
“We have had a tremendous response to begin our first sign-up period for both the partial payment, and the tax relief and tax freeze, programs,” the longtime trustee stressed.
At the start of the current enrollment, 1,336 parcels were recorded in the partial payment plan, Smith pointed out. In the weeks since, 31 new parcels have been enrolled in partial payment, and another 32 enrollees have signed up for the tax relief and tax freeze initiatives.
“The citizens continue to express their appreciation for the partial payment program which helps them in the management of their cash flow,” Smith said.
Smith has always shown gratitude for the work of his staff in sustaining the partial payment program; however, he also is quick to point to those who years ago made it possible. Specifically, that includes the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and the Bradley County Commission, both of whom had to sign off on the local proposal before it could be enacted locally.
“The efforts of my staff, with the cooperation of the state Comptroller’s Office, has made life much easier for many Bradley County taxpayers,” Smith said. “When the partial payment idea was presented and approved by the Bradley County Commission (back in 2010), we thought some would see a benefit, but no one had any idea it would grow in the number of participants as it has.”
Smith added, “This is a program that is good for the taxpayers and good for Bradley County.”
At the program’s inception, Smith set a goal of recording 500 parcels for partial payment within the first five years. That target was easily eclipsed within three years, and has continued to add new participants since.
The county trustee pointed to the importance of getting the message out to Bradley County taxpayers, and especially to elderly residents who need this kind of tax-paying alternative.
He said it is always a joy to have a new enrollee drop by the office carrying a copy of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
“I get a kick out of the taxpayers coming in with copies of the Banner saying, ‘I want to sign up for this,’” Smith stressed. “The community newspaper has been an important partner in helping us keep taxpayers aware of the partial payment program, as well as the tax relief and tax freeze plans.”
Tax Relief Program
This is a state tax-relief initiative that pays a portion of the property taxes for elderly residents and disabled individuals who meet certain eligibility requirements.
The Tax Relief Program pays these amounts, according to information provided by Smith’s office:
• Up to $115 for eligible property owners who live within the Cleveland city limits;
• Up to $142 for eligible property owners who live outside the fire fringe limits;
• Up to $143 for eligible property owners who live inside the fire fringe limits; and
• Up to $33 for eligible property owners who live within the Charleston city limits.
Those eligible for the Tax Relief option must be 65 or older by Dec. 31, 2017, or a disabled homeowner; must own and use the property as a primary residence; and must have a maximum 2016 income for applicant, spouse and all owners of the property of no more than $29,180.
Application deadline for 2017 is April 5, 2018.
For detailed information on required documentation and identification, contact the Trustee’s Office at 423-728-7248.
Tax Freeze Program
The Tax Freeze Program was adopted by the Bradley County Commission in August 2007, to help control property tax increases for property owners age 65 and older whose income does not exceed an income limit set by the state, Smith explained.
According to Trustee’s Office literature, “The tax is frozen at the tax amount for the year the property owner initially qualifies for the program. The tax amount will not increase as long as the property owner meets the eligibility requirements, and there are no improvements to the property.”
Eligibility requirements for the 2017 Tax Freeze Program include: Must be 65 or older on or before Dec. 31, 2017; must own and use the property as a primary residence; and maximum 2016 income for applicant, spouse and all owners of the property must not exceed $32,130.
Like the Tax Relief Program, Cleveland and Bradley County residents should contact the Trustee’s Office for detailed information.
Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday.
To best serve Bradley County taxpayers, it is recommended they make a phone call to the Trustee’s Office first before making a personal visit in order to understand the types of documentation and identification to bring for each taxpayer program sign-up.
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