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Grand Forks city spreads word of tax credit

More people in Grand Forks are saving money on property taxes this year compared to last year, thanks to state law changes to the Homestead Tax Program.

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More people in Grand Forks are saving money on property taxes this year compared to last year, thanks to state law changes to the Homestead Tax Program.

As of Thursday, the Grand Forks City Assessing Department had 359 applications to the program, which provides tax credits to senior citizens or disabled persons with qualifying incomes.

That's up 152 from the 207 people who participated in the program in 2012, said John Herz, Grand Forks city assessor.

"That's pretty good. That's substantial," Herz said.

He estimated that about 75 percent of that participation increase was due to changes in the law, which made more people eligible for the program. Other reasons for the increase in participation could be changes in incomes or age.

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Change in eligibility

North Dakota Legislature increased the income limit for eligibility in the Homestead Tax Program to $42,000 this year, up from the $26,000 limit in 2012.

That means that anyone who has an income of $42,000 or lower and who is more than 65 years old may now qualify for tax credit through the program.

The Legislature also increased the amount of money people can receive through the program, Herz said. In 2012, the program's tax credit could not make an individual's assets exceed $75,000. Now, that limit is up to $500,000.

That means, for example, that if someone's income and age qualifies them for the program, but they have land or other assets that put them over the $500,000 limit, they won't qualify.

Herz said anyone can call his office at (701) 746-2611 with questions on eligibility or to receive an application for the program. People may apply at any time and may apply for a refund for up to two previous years that they missed in the program, if they were eligible those years.

Getting the word out

There has been some concern among city leaders and state legislators that there may not be as many newly eligible people in Grand Forks applying for the Homestead Tax Program as there could be, said Pete Haga, community/government affairs coordinator for Grand Forks.

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"There may be more people out here who are not aware" they're eligible, Haga said.

He added that right now is "the high point" of trying to raise awareness of the program, because it's when tax bills come out.

Herz said his office has been trying to get the word out about the program since the legislative change, which happened in the summer but was retroactively effective Jan. 1.

As part of informing people on the program, the City Assessing Department mails applications to people who qualified for the program in past years, Herz said. Participants have to reapply each year, and "sometimes people forget to apply," he said.

City Assessing also worked with the city's public information center and talked to local service clubs about the program, Herz said.

The city doesn't have a way to find every single person eligible for the tax credit, though, Herz said. "In order for us to help them, they have to notify us."

Herz agreed that there may be some people eligible who do not know about the Homestead Tax Program, but he added that there may be some who don't want to apply, despite eligibility.

"Sometimes, it's difficult for people to ask for help," he said. "Those are the people we want to help. Those are the people we're looking for. ... The Legislature passed this to let us help."

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Call Haley at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1102; or send email to chaley@gfherald.com .

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