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Votes

Broader Tax Relief

County to increase real estate tax relief for elderly and permanently disabled in 2005.

Richard Fiske, a retired farmer, was born in Loudoun County. With the rising cost of living, however, he's worried that he won't finish his life here.

"I'm going to have to leave because I'm going to be taxed out," he said. "I'd like to stay here, but I don't think I'll be able to."

Residents like Fiske will get some extra help next year. The Board of Supervisors has approved relaxing the standards for qualifying for total real estate tax relief.

Last year, house assessments jumped an average of 12 percent, said county assessor Bill Gardner. Some residents, however, reported an increase as much as 20 percent or more.

Many seniors have high medical costs, young adult children to support and older homes that need repairs, all on a fixed income, said 29-year Sterling resident Beverly Cohen.

"Many have no recourse but to sell and move out of the county," she said.

BEFORE THE INCREASE, Loudoun was already one of the most generous counties when it came to real estate tax relief. Total real estate tax relief was awarded to the elderly or permanently disabled who have household incomes of up to $62,000 — a full $10,000 more than Fauquier County.

Residents must also have had a net worth less than $240,000 to qualify. Loudoun tied with the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County on this figure, which is $45,000 to $165,000 more than other Northern Virginia localities.

Up to an acre of land was exempt, which is on par with neighboring counties.

But now the standards have been relaxed further. For 2005, senior and permanently disabled residents can have a household income up to $72,000 and maximum net worth of $340,000 in order to quality for 100 percent real estate tax relief.

The move received support from the board's Republican members.

"I have found over the last decade that this has been one of the largest concerns of the elderly citizens of Loudoun County," said Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg). "I take no pleasure in walking out and seeing an elderly woman crying ... because she can no longer afford to live in Loudoun."

Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) thought the new terms were "too generous."

"We've got a lot of people in this county who don't make $62,000 a year," he said.

ACCORDING to county staff reports, the county lost $2.3 million in tax revenue in calendar year 2004 because of the tax relief program.