Garfield County commissioners OK senior benefit payments |

Garfield County commissioners OK senior benefit payments

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – More than 2,450 senior citizens in Garfield County can expect to receive a check in the mail this summer, even if the state of Colorado’s so-called “senior exemption” appears likely to be suspended for another two years.

County commissioners gave final approval Monday to a plan to rebate $400,000 in property taxes to senior citizens age 65 and older who have been on the county’s voter registration rolls for 10 years or more.

That was the criteria used to determine who would be eligible for the payments, after the county was advised in March that it could not use the state’s exemption list of eligible Garfield County senior citizens for confidentiality reasons.

Checks in the amount of $162.87 each will be sent out by June 30 to 2,456 senior citizens in the county. To qualify, a person must have turned 65 by Dec. 31, 2009, and have been a registered voter in Garfield County for at least 10 years.

The 10-year residency requirement is in line with the criteria used by the state of Colorado in determining who qualifies for the senior property tax exemption, which was created in 2000 as a form of tax relief for senior citizens.

The law allows the state to suspend the exemption in order to help balance the budget, which was done last year due to the state budget crisis. A bill already passed by the Colorado Senate and now before the House would suspend the tax exemption for 2010 and 2011.

Garfield County is believed to be the only county in the state to offer the one-time payment at the local level, in lieu of the state tax exemption.

County Commissioner John Martin has been pushing for a senior tax rebate since last fall as a way to help ease economic hardships for senior citizens in the county.

Commissioners Tresi Houpt and Mike Samson have supported the effort, as did County Assessor John Gorman, who worked with Treasurer Georgia Chamberlain and the county attorney and finance offices to figure out a way to make it work.

Qualified seniors will receive a postcard in the mail before the checks are sent out, advising them that they are eligible for the benefit payment. Samson asked that an appeal process be allowed if a resident believes they are qualified but are not included on the list.

The county considered other residency/voter registration criteria and other methods of distributing the money, including one option to give $400,000 to a senior organization in the county to distribute.

Using voter registration was also viewed as the only sure way to confirm residency and legal status as a 10-year county resident.

“This proposal gets to more of the seniors who qualify,” said Mildred Alsdorf of the Garfield County Senior Council.

The former county clerk and recorder endorsed the idea of using the voter rolls, saying it could also help current Garfield County Clerk and Recorder Jean Alberico identify any address changes that may need to be made before this summer’s primary elections.

Although SB 10-190, which would suspend the state’s senior exemption, has passed in the Senate, it is still being debated in the House.

Gorman offered at a previous county commissioners meeting that, unless there is a huge outcry among citizens, the 2010 bill suspending the senior exemption is likely to pass in the Legislature and be signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Al White, R-Hayden, and Maryanne Keller, D-Wheatridge. Its House sponsors are Reps. Jim Riesberg, D-Weld County, and Jack Pommer, D-Boulder.

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