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Homestead exemption hunt drawing to close
Most unaware of breaking rule, official says
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Forsyth County News

More than $105,000 has been collected so far from Forsyth County taxpayers who have claimed multiple homestead exemptions.

The Forsyth County Tax Assessor’s Office began working with Tax Management Associates about a year ago to find residents who may be claiming two homesteads, when just one is allowed.

Tax Assessor Mary Kirkpatrick said the county has so far received payment from 65 taxpayers who owed back taxes and any penalties or interest due.

The company that provided the records takes a 25 percent cut of any money collected, so the county has netted about $79,000 in taxes owed so far, Kirkpatrick said.

The first letters went out in June 2012 and the office hopes to send out the last batch of notices this June, she said.

“We’ve probably reviewed about 350 [cases],” she said. “Of some of them we review, we don’t agree with their findings, so we’re not going to process all 350. There may have been 35 or 40 that we haven’t agreed with.”

Most cases the tax assessor’s office hasn’t sought to bill have been from errors made by Forsyth County or inaccurate information from another jurisdiction, Kirkpatrick said.

It’s possible that the total number of taxpayers who receive notices of dual homestead claims could be near 1,000, she said.

Anyone who receives a letter has 45 days to appeal to the board of equalization.

“No one seemed to know they were doing it, but when they realized that they were, they generally just say, ‘OK, it was there. I owe somebody,’” Kirkpatrick said.

The homestead exemption, which is $8,000 off the assessed value in Forsyth County, is intended “to ease your tax burden where you claim your permanent residence,” she said.

That amounts to about $107 off per year for the average homeowner claiming homestead.

The cost can get up to about $18,000 for those who have been found to be falsely claiming the exemption for several years, as was the case with a resident who last week asked the tax assessor’s board for assistance.

The woman and her husband had been receiving homestead exemptions in Georgia and Louisiana for seven years without realizing the out-of-state second home had the tax break, she said.

According to Kirkpatrick, the finding also caused the county to seek back taxes for falsely receiving the school tax exemption, which applies to homeowners older than 65 with a primary residence in the county.

Combined with the penalties and interest, the amount compounded quickly and led to a total that could force the couple out of their home to make the payment due, according to the woman.

The tax assessor’s board decided to revisit the issue at a meeting March 7, but initially took the stance that the county could not make an exception for one person for a hardship.

In general, Kirkpatrick told the board that those being billed as part of the audit are “getting tremendous tax breaks in two places and it’s in violation of the law.”

The penalties and interest are also set by the tax commissioner, according to law.