- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

CANTON, Miss. (AP) - Madison County’s tax assessor is asking local homeowner’s associations to help identify rental properties in their neighborhoods.

Tax Assessor Gerald Barber told the Madison County Journal (https://bit.ly/1y2pXBK) the groups can help in cracking down on homestead exemption fraud.

Under homestead exemption, the state encourages people to own homes by exempting the houses from some property taxes. The state reimburses counties and cities for lost tax revenues.

Mississippi homeowners who are 65 or older or totally disabled, who are eligible for the homestead exemption, can claim a total exemption from property taxes on up to 160 acres or the first $75,000 of the true value of their home, whichever limit is reached first.

Barber has made one of his priorities to stop fraud that occurs when property owners claim a residence they lease out as their primary residence to save an additional 5 percent on property tax.

“We did a study not long ago that found that we have already saved the county $500,000 over the past three years by discovering cases of homestead exemption fraud,” Barber said “These aren’t people who do it once. They do it year after year, and it’s not just the other homeowners losing out - it’s the cities, the schools and the public services that are losing out on funding.”

While $500,000 over three years may not seem like a lot compared to $35 million to $38 million in revenue the county receives annually from property taxes, Barber, who is in his seventh term, said the issue isn’t just with the 120-150 cases his office handles annually or the $1,500 to $2,000 that each case costs the county. It’s the fact that some homeowners repeatedly file fraudulently.

Over time, he said, it adds up to a lot of money.

“If you have a $200,000 home, save $1,600 a year by cheating the system and do it for six years, that’s $9,600 you’ve cost the county,” he said.

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Information from: Madison County Journal, https://www.onlinemadison.com


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