In an effort to provide more open government for the people of West Virginia, live Internet audio broadcasts of all House of Delegates daily floor sessions and standing committee meetings may be accessed by choosing the "Streaming Audio" link followed by choosing the appropriate meeting room link at the Web site, www.legis.state.wv.us. The "Bulletin Board" link on the same Web site provides committee schedules and agendas. If you have any comments about how the new streaming audio program is working or could be improved, we in "The People's House" welcome your input.
Even though the number of children as a percentage of our state's population is declining, the number of crimes against children has grown dramatically in the past three years. In those three years, physical assaults, abuse, neglect and sex crimes against children have totaled 43,575.
In December 2009, the West Virginia State Police combined Child Protection, Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, Digital Forensics and Missing Children Clearinghouse into one unit now identified as the Crimes Against Children Unit. This pooling of resources will provide better communication and more efficient and effective use of manpower to make our state safer for children.
Gov. Joe Manchin has requested funding for six additional state troopers (bringing the total to 18) to conduct child abuse, neglect and child sex crime investigations. Also, more attention will be given to Internet crimes against children.
Over the past two years, the issue of a 180-day school calendar has received lots of press. In 2009, the session ended with two bills, a House-amended version and a Senate-amended version of the governor's bill. No agreement was reached in conference on the two versions. This year, the governor introduced a different bill which gives county boards the flexibility to select the beginning and ending dates for the 180-day instructional and 200-day employment terms.
In light of the stalemate last year, the House and Senate passed the governor's bill, HB 4040, without amendment. County boards will follow this new law, which requires each to submit a plan for icy roads and emergency conditions to guarantee 180 days of instruction, for the 2010-2011 school year.
As we head into the federal and state income tax filing periods, there are four provisions in West Virginia Code that may assist individuals, especially senior citizens, by directly or indirectly reducing property taxes on their homes. Two of these must be considered while filing income tax forms. A brief summary of those tax laws follows. Individuals who may qualify for these programs should find more information in publications and forms available at the West Virginia State Tax Department (www.wvtax.gov or 800-982-8297) or seek further assistance through family members and friends, local senior centers, county assessor offices or professional tax preparers.
Homestead Exemption Program
This long-standing program, handled at the county assessor's office, is for persons who are 65 years of age or older, or permanently and totally disabled. It provides an exemption from property taxes on the first $20,000 of assessed value on their owner-occupied residence. A homeowner who is living with family members or in a nursing home or other facility as a result of illness, accident or infirmity of old age may retain a homestead exemption and Class II property designation as long as the property is not used for commercial purposes or does not become a residence of any other individual.
The Homestead Exemption may apply to mobile homes on leased land. Persons who qualify for the exemption must make application to the assessor on or before Dec. 1 following the July 1 assessment date, if he/she is going to be 65 before the next July 1, using forms available in the assessor's office. Senior citizens need only file for this exemption one time unless the claimant moves to a new home.
Refundable Tax Credit
Senior citizens eligible for the Homestead Exemption Program may be entitled to claim a refundable state tax credit. Credit eligibility is restricted to those who meet the following criteria in addition to participating in the Homestead Exemption Program:
- They must owe and pay a property tax liability on the Homestead Exemption eligible home (i.e., the assessed value of the eligible home must be greater than $20,000 prior to the application of the Homestead Exemption).
- Their federal adjusted gross income must meet a low income test (at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level).
- Even if they owe no income taxes, they must file a West Virginia income tax return to claim the refundable credit.
More information about this credit is available in Publication TSD-411 available from the state tax department.
Senior Citizen Property Tax
Only seniors who receive the Homestead Property Tax Exemption at the county level as a result of reaching 65 years, who experience a property tax increase on their Homestead Property of at least $300 in the past year and who have gross household income of no more than $25,000 qualify for this deferment.
Persons who pay the federal alternative minimum tax are not eligible to claim this credit. This credit must be preapproved by your county assessor's office. In order to find out if you qualify, an application must be submitted to that office in order to determine the amount of your credit. If you have questions regarding the qualification for the deferment/credit, contact your county assessor. Senior citizens who qualify for this credit have the option to receive a refundable personal income tax credit from the state equal to the property tax increase increment or choose to defer their property tax in the identical amount.
Homestead Excess Property Tax Credit
Beginning with tax year 2008, there is a refundable personal state income tax credit available to any homeowner for real property taxes paid in excess of 4 percent of their income. The maximum refundable tax credit is $1,000. Taxpayers must complete the schedule in the personal income tax booklet to determine the amount of the credit. Persons who pay the federal alternative minimum tax are not eligible to claim this credit.
For most low-income seniors, the best option available will continue to be the refundable Senior Citizens Tax Credit or the alternative Homestead Excess Property Tax Credit and not the deferment. Seniors cannot claim more than one of these three credit alternatives.
It is very important that seniors evaluate these three options carefully before filing their personal income tax return for the year or paying their property tax. Based upon recent filing statistics, the refundable Senior Citizens Tax Credit is the best option for more than 90 percent of all eligible households. The Homestead Excess Property Tax Credit is the best option for less than 9 percent of all eligible households. The Property Tax Deferment Credit is the best option for less than 1 percent of all eligible households.
The 2010 legislative session ends at midnight on March 13.
My mailing address at the Capitol is West Virginia House of Delegates, Room 434M, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. East, Charleston, W.Va. 25305. You may reach me by phone at 304-340-3265 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage you to contact me with your input and assistance.
(Editor's note: Poling represents the 40th District, comprised of Barbour and Upshur counties, in the West Virginia House of Delegates.)