Jackson County tax problem goes to Jackson in January

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX)- Lyle Frisbie knows he's not alone. He's one of thousands of senior citizens living on a fixed income. And his taxes just skyrocketed.

"My taxes went from 470 dollars to 854 dollars." Frisbie said.  That's an increase of eighty two percent.

"It's gonna be harder than it was," Frisbie said about his new tax bill.  "And I'm sure there's other people that's worse off than I am."

He's right.  Bills left the Jackson County Tax Collector's office with tax hikes of up to three hundred percent.  Like Frisbie, many of the people are senior citizens, living on fixed incomes.  Their taxes are reduced by a state-wide homestead exemption that makes the first seventy five thousand dollars of a senior citizen's property value exempt from taxation.  But now Jackson County property values are up, and the exemption isn't.  It's making it hard for seniors, many of whom are receiving tax bills for the first time in years.

"When you become seventy five years old, you know the way I look at it, it's time to get a little break somewhere along the line," Frisbie said.

But local officials can't raise the exemption.  In fact at this point, there's little they can do to affect the tax rates at all.

"We basically have to rely on the homeowner now to find a mistake in the process that we have made," said District 5 Supervisor John McKay.  "And that's the only avenue you have for relief right now."

There isn't much local officials can do about this round of taxes, but there could be some relief for next time if the state government gets involved.

"At this point in time it's a state issue," said McKay.  "We've brought it to the state's attention and it's getting a lot of attention."

State Senator Michael Watson (R-Pascagoula) is introducing a bill in January that would raise the homestead exemption to match rising property values.

"If the values are increasing, then we should also increase the exemptions," he said.  "It's only fair."

It could be a state-wide solution to a local issue.

"I think the tax increase screams and yells for my bill," Watson said.  "I think it's directly related."

"I think it would help a lot of people," said Frisbie.

But the exemption increase would raise another problem.  McKay said the county would lose a good bit of its revenue if the exemption were increased.  Therefore, other taxpayers would have to carry the extra burden of paying up for what the exemption left out.  He warned that it was a complicated situation, but he supports raising the exemption.

Frisbie doesn't think lawmakers are going far enough to alleviate the high taxes for seniors.

"I think the homestead exemption value should be the value of the house when you become a certain age," he said.

The bill will be presented to state lawmakers during the January legislative session.