By: Lucy Valeski, Columbia Missourian
Senior citizens will most likely not have to pass a “means test” to qualify for a freeze on their property taxes, Boone County Presiding Commissioner Kip Kendrick said Thursday, April 19th.

Earlier in April, county voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative to shield seniors from tax rate hikes on their primary residence. After approval, the Boone County Commission started drafting its version of the policy. During the campaign, Kendrick had floated the idea of the county limiting the tax freeze to seniors with a home appraisal value in the assessment file of $300,000 or less. In Boone County, 86% of homes are at or below that standard.

However, this qualification is likely off the table, as state lawmakers work on “clean-up” legislation that would leave very little power to county governments in choosing how to implement the tax freeze, Kendrick said. The Boone County Commission held the first of several public hearings related to the tax freeze Thursday April 19th and clarified what the final policy could look like.

“I’m here to tell you today that the means test is not currently in our draft policy,” Kendrick said. The commission room was packed with residents, many of whom spoke during the public hearing. Attendees told the commission about the importance of the policy in lifting some financial burdens for seniors.

“It’s an issue of humanity,” said Susan Taylor, who spoke at the meeting. “There are so many frightened people out there that are fearful of losing their homes.”

Boone County Commissioner Janet Thompson echoed Taylor’s sentiment.

“There was another woman down the road (who) lived on Social Security,” Thompson said. “That’s the person thing I see when I look at this.” Other speakers had questions about who would qualify and how they would receive the tax credit. Kendrick said most of those questions would be answered by Missouri lawmakers by May 17, when the legislative session ends.

The commission is hosting two other public hearings for the senior property tax freeze:
1:30 p.m. May 2 at Centralia City Hall
1:30 p.m. May 9 at Ashland City Hall

Delayed implementation
State legislators passed the rule last year allowing counties to freeze property taxes for people qualifying for Social Security. This plan would limit some residents, like teachers, from qualifying.

The “clean-up” legislation aims to fix that, establishing that residents 62 years and older are now able to qualify. The Boone County Commission opted to put the issue on the ballot in April while they waited for the new legislation to go into effect. During the tax freeze campaign, some people criticized the commission for not implementing the policy sooner. Eleven other counties, including St. Louis and Jackson, have already passed a senior property tax freeze.

Kendrick said waiting on establishing implementation would allow the county to take state law from the current legislative session into consideration when drafting a policy. All counties that have implemented the freeze so far, including Boone County, will be using the same base tax year of 2024. Some counties that have already passed their tax freeze will not be following state statute after the new rules come out in May. For example, St. Louis County has a means test, limiting who can apply for the program. This qualification may no longer be legal, forcing the county to rework its program.

“Boone County is arguably in a better position than any other county in the state of Missouri to implement this program,” Kendrick said.

“We will be ready to adopt the policy within a matter of probably a week or two after the end of the legislative session to this compliance with state law.”

Original article