BROOKSVILLE — With the window of opportunity closing for low-income seniors wanting to take advantage of the new $50,000 homestead exemption, thousands of last-minute filers swarmed to the county Property Appraiser's Office this past week.
More than 3,600 applications were filed in February, according to Paulette Stearns, director of public service and exemptions in the Property Appraiser's Office. Workers fielded more than 8,000 phone calls from residents wanting to know how to qualify for the exemption.
"It surprised us to a degree," Stearns said Monday, the final day to file for this year. "It slowed down some today, but it was still pretty busy."
Stearns said the complex criteria seemed to leave many applicants confused about what they needed to do to receive the senior homestead tax break that Hernando voters approved in a Jan. 29 referendum. Others said they were unsure of what specific documents they had to file by the deadline in order to receive the exemption.
In order to quality for the additional $50,000 exemption, homeowners must have the existing $25,000 homestead exemption and at least one owner must be 65 or older, as of Jan. 1. In addition, total adjusted gross income for all members of the household cannot exceed $24,916 in 2007.
The additional $50,000 exemption would reduce a homeowner's tax bill by $317 or more, based on the countywide property tax rate approved last year. Stearns said the figure does not include reductions in other taxes levied by the County Commission in certain regions of the county or school taxes.
Stearns said that many applicants were concerned they would be unable to meet Monday's deadline because they had not yet prepared their federal income tax returns. Applicants have until June 1 to file proof-of-income statements.
"We were getting a lot of IRS-type questions that we simply couldn't answer," Stearns said.
Meanwhile, Stearns said the Property Appraiser's Office is gearing up for another round of tax questions dealing with new tax-portability guidelines, which will allow homeowners to carry portions of their tax savings with them to a new property.
Although the deadline for the application was Monday, Stearns said that Hernando County Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek extended the deadline for an undetermined amount of time.
Stearns said Mazourek, in Tallahassee this week, was concerned that some homeowners may not yet be aware that they are eligible for portability. To date, Stearns said, her office has received about 800 of the 1,200 forms mailed to homeowners.
Stearns said that although the new tax rules put her office in crunch mode during February, she is confident that things will get easier in the future.
"It's a learning curve," Stearns said. "We'll be taking a look at what we need to do to simplify it."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.