In keeping with annual trends, the first of two enrollment periods for the taxpayer-friendly partial payment plan has been a little slow, and that's not unexpected.
With less than three days remaining before the cutoff of registration, the Bradley County Trustee’s Office has added another 27 parcels to the innovative, 9-year-old installment program that allows home and property owners to pay their taxes in monthly increments; or other frequencies such as quarterly or biannually.
“The numbers are average for this time of year,” Trustee Mike Smith told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “Just about every year, the second enrollment period is much busier than the first.”
At the start of the opening sign-up period, which began in late October and ends Friday at 5 p.m., some 1,724 Bradley County parcels were recorded in the initiative. Smith doesn’t have a projection for how many additional taxpayers will sign up this week. However, it’s the second enrollment in early 2020 that is expected to draw more interest.
“It’s hard to say exactly why it’s like this,” Smith said. “Maybe our citizens are more wrapped up in the holidays than they are signing up for the tax program. However, once the New Year rolls around, and they have a better handle on their finances and cash flow for the coming year, they’ll consider signing up for partial payment.”
The second enrollment opportunity for 2020 property taxes will begin Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2020, and continue through Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
“The second sign-up is generally the busier of the two, as evidenced by last January’s turnout when we had a steady flow of citizens wanting to sign up in the final week,” the longtime trustee explained. “It is very possible we’ll have the same situation this coming January and early February.”
Launched in 2010, the partial payment program is no longer unfamiliar to most Bradley County residents; however, in many cases local taxpayers who had not previously used the installment program are now realizing it can be of assistance to them due to lifestyle changes such as retirement.
“Over the years, monthly installments have easily become the most popular frequency of payment among our citizens — many of them elderly — who need this type of convenience,” Smith said.
Unlike the conventional once-per-year, lump-sum payment in February, partial payment allows taxpayers to divide their tax payments into equal amounts, whether it is monthly or some other combination.
An example of how partial payment works is found in these numbers: For a parcel whose annual lump-sum payment is $500, the monthly payment would become about $42. At tax year’s end, the full amount due will have been paid, but in much smaller increments.
“Partial payment is most popular among our elderly citizens, those who no longer have the same spending power in retirement, or who must closely watch their cash flow,” Smith stated. “It’s always a joy being able to help these folks with their taxes, and to make their lives just a little easier.”
For those wishing to sign up for partial payment during this enrollment period’s final week, the deadline is Friday at 5 p.m. But, the second enrollment in early 2020 will offer the same opportunity.
Questions should be directed to the Trustee’s Office at 423-728-7247. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.
The Trustee’s Office is located at 1701 Keith St., which is on the corner of Keith and 17th streets in the building formerly occupied by SouthEast Bank.
Two other popular tax-assistance programs — tax relief and tax freeze — are also offered through the Trustee’s Office. Sign-up for both continues through April 6, 2020.
Most recently, the office has signed up 57 new participants in the tax relief and tax freeze plans.
Unlike partial payment — which is open to all Bradley County taxpayers — the tax relief and tax freeze programs involve certain eligibility criteria.
Tax relief program
aids elderly, disabled vets
To qualify for the tax relief initiative, the applicant must be age 65 or older by Dec. 31, 2019, or be a disabled homeowner, Smith stressed. The property must be owned and used as the primary residence. The maximum 2018 income for the applicant, spouse and all owners of the property must not exceed $29,860.
Disabled veteran homeowners are equally as eligible for tax relief, but certain criteria must be met.
“For a disabled veteran homeowner, an applicant must be totally and permanently disabled on or before Dec. 31, 2019, and must not have been dishonorably discharged from any armed service,” Smith noted. “Property tax relief shall also be extended to the surviving spouse of a disabled veteran who, at the time of the disabled veteran’s death, was eligible for disabled veterans’ property tax relief.”
The trustee added, “A surviving spouse must have been married to the veteran at the time of death and not have remarried.”
Tax freeze program
based on criteria
To qualify for the tax freeze program, all property owners and the applicant’s spousal 2018 income cannot exceed $32,870, Smith explained. The applicant must own and use the property as the primary residence, and property taxes must be paid, he said.
“I also want to remind Bradley County property owners who qualified for the tax freeze program last year of the requirement to reapply for the program annually,” Smith stressed.
To apply for tax freeze, property owners must bring their 2018 income for all owners listed on the deed, including the applicant’s spouse, as well as some form of identification such as a valid driver’s license and Medicare card, the trustee explained.
“If you filed a 2018 income tax return, a copy of your return is required, as well as Form 1099-SSA or Form 1099-SSI,” Smith said. “Also, we need a copy of the title or bill of sale if you reside in a mobile home. If your property is in a trust, the state requires a copy of this document, as well.”
Smith pointed to the importance of both the tax relief and tax freeze programs, and said they serve as significant complements to the partial payment plan.
“The tax relief and tax freeze programs are two very important programs that assist our citizens with their taxes,” Smith said. “I encourage any citizen who feels they meet the qualification criteria to come to the Trustee’s Office to apply.”
Because tax relief and tax freeze operate differently from the partial payment program — because they are age- and income-based, and require different types of documentation — Smith recommended local residents drop by the Trustee’s Office to get full details about how each of the plans operates.
“Not everyone will be eligible for tax freeze and tax relief,” Smith said. “That’s why it is so important to come by and talk to us to get a full understanding of the requirements. We certainly want to reach out to our disabled veterans, as well. There are ways we can help these groups with tax freeze and tax relief, but we first need to explain how they operate.”
He added, “Most often, the best way to do this is face to face in our office.”
A county clerk
reminder to all
The building that houses the Trustee’s Office also provides a drive-through service for getting car tag and handicapped placard renewals from two staff members of Bradley County Clerk Donna Simpson. The county clerk service at the Trustee’s Office building is available only through the drive-through.
Full county clerk services are also available in the ground-level office of the Bradley County Courthouse.