Howell and Ozark are among several counties waiting to find out more about Missouri Senate Bill 190 (SB190), which freezes property tax rates for some senior citizens and was signed into law July 6 by Gov. Mike Parson.
Counties have the option to decline to put it into effect or to put it before voters by way of a petition in support of the referendum signed by at least 5% of the registered voters in the county voting in the most recent gubernatorial election.
Howell County Presiding Commissioner Ralph Riggs explained in a statement released to the media that the commission as a whole has questions about the legislation, and is waiting for a consensus and clarification before implementing the law.
As it is now written, the legislation will not affect 2023 property taxes, Riggs pointed out.
"The Howell County Commission has recently had several inquiries regarding SB190, which modifies provisions relating to the taxation of seniors," he said in his statement. "The commission wants its constituents to be assured that they will take this legislation seriously and wishes to do the right thing with this matter. We will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds.”
"Unfortunately, the amendment to the existing statute is so vaguely written as passed as to be essentially unworkable at this time and any comments or positions taken about SB190 will simply be speculative and subject to change,” he continued. “The commission has had extensive discussions with the assessor and collector offices along with attorneys and professional organizations that deal with county issues. As currently written, SB190 does not affect 2023 property taxes. Therefore the commission has determined that we are unable to take action or have an official position as further clarifications will have to be undertaken by the State of Missouri before implementation.”
He also noted the language of the legislation opens it up to the possibility of future litigation that could further complicate the county’s ability to enact the law.
“For any further questions on SB190, constituents should contact their state legislators," Riggs concluded.
A summary of the bill can be found by visiting the Senate website, senate.mo.gov, clicking “Legislation” and following the first link under “Regular Session” to see the full list of bills and scrolling to SB190. Clicking on that leads to the bill summary, with a link to the full bill text in the menu bar at the top of the page.
The legislation reads, in part, that eligible taxpayers would be those Missouri residents eligible for Social Security retirement benefits and who own or have a legal interest in a homestead and pay property taxes on that homestead.
The amount of the property tax credit, per the bill, would equal the difference between the property tax owed on the homestead in a given year minus the tax owed on the same property the year “the taxpayer became an eligible taxpayer.” A credit would be applied when the tax owed is calculated, with the amount of the credit noted on the tax bill sent to the taxpayer by the county collector.
The summary also says that, for the purposes of calculating property tax levies, the credits will be counted as revenue received, even though it wouldn't be collected.
One question that has been raised is whether the tax break will be given to those property owners that are age 62, the earliest age to draw Social Security benefits. But the language is clear as it the legislation is written, stating eligible taxpayers are Missouri residents who are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, with no distinction made between when people can draw those benefits, at age 62, or when most people draw them, at age 66 or 67. The difference is that drawing benefits at age 62 results in about a 30% reduction in the benefit amount compared to the full retirement benefit paid out when the recipient starts drawing at full benefit age, 66 or 67.
Aside from a possible property tax break, the bill also expands the amount eligible for state tax deductions based on adjusted gross income. The bill summary notes current law applies to taxpayers with certain filing status and adjusted gross income below a certain amount to deduct 100% of certain retirement and Social Security benefits from the payer’s Missouri adjusted gross income, with a reduced deduction as the taxpayer's adjusted gross income increases. For all tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2024, the new law allows the maximum deduction to all taxpayers regardless of filing status or adjusted gross income.
154th District State Representative David Evans sponsored a bill that was added to SB190. The across-the-board deduction of state tax on income from disability or Social Security income will be effective for the 2024 tax year, regardless of whether counties adopt the ordinance regarding property tax breaks.
Evans said he was for the tax reduction efforts as a help for senior citizens who are at risk of losing their homes because they are unable to pay the property taxes, but agreed there needs to be clarification of the issues, and he hopes work will begin on that early in the year. The concerns are of possible litigation by school districts and county tax-collecting entities, because as the legislation is worded now, there is no clarification on age of eligibility, or if the tax break would reduce the revenue collected by the county and passed along to school districts, for example.