UPDATE: Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian said today that other media reports indicating that residents living in the municipalities would not be eligible for the tax credit is incorrect. 

“If you live anywhere in Kent County, whether in a municipality or not, you can apply for the tax credit,” Fithian said in an interview Thursday. “I don’t want people thinking that they have to live beyond the municipal boundaries to qualify for this, it’s meant for every homeowner that meets the income and age requirements.”

After a year of economic challenges from COVID-19, the Kent County Commissioners rolled out a year-end spending package Tuesday to support county employees, provide more relief to businesses and help low income homeowners with property tax exemptions.

Money from the county’s general fund will provide a county property tax exemption for homeowners that are 60 or older and make less than $35,000 annually. Those who qualify at the county level will also qualify for the state tax credit. 

Update: Kent County Chief Finance Officer Pat Merrit said Thursday that homeowners who don’t qualify for the county tax credit may still qualify for the state tax credit because of different requirements. When homeowners apply for county tax credit they are applying for state credit at the same time.

“We don’t want to discourage homeowners from applying if they don’t think they qualify for the county tax credit.”

Commissioner Ron Fithian said the tax exemption will help homeowners struggling with water and sewer bills.

“This gives direct relief to people at the bottom of the pay scale,” he said at the Dec. 15 Commissioners’ meeting. “In most cases it’s the older people that are on fixed incomes that really have to watch their dollars all the time. I think it’s a great program.”

Commissioner Bob Jacob said there are a lot of low income homeowners paying water and sewer that can benefit from the program.

“If they can get a tax credit for their homes it would take more of the burden off them,”  he said.

The program was launched in 2008 during the financial crisis and the income threshold then was $25,000 and cost the county roughly $90,000 that year. In 2017 the threshold was raised to $30,000 and cost the general fund $155,000. This year the exemptions at the $35,000 threshold will cost the general fund as much as $300,000.

Fithian said homeowners that meet the age and income thresholds need to apply for the exemption. 

Homeowners can contact the county at 410-778-7478 or the state assessment office in Chestertown at 410-778-1410 to get an application.

County employees receive year-end bonus

Kent’s roughly 215 employees will also receive a holiday bonus of $2,800 and cost $600,000, but some of that is offset by a decision not to give annual pay raises this year, workforce reductions and a hiring freeze that went into effect for nonessential employees. There was also less expenditures this year for Parks and Recreation due to the COVID-19 closures of county parks and there was additional savings from cancellation of the annual holiday party.

Bonuses are paid for with $226,000 from the county’s Coronavirus Relief Fund and $378,000 will be paid out of the county’s general fund.

“None of our employees got a raise this year because we were being very cautious with what this year was going to bring,” Fithian said. “Everyone has done a tremendous job…and it’s our way of saying ‘Thank you.’”

Business Relief

Yet another round of business relief nearing $190,000 will go out to Kent’s businesses from what remains in the county’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. Roughly 65 businesses will receive grants of up to $5,000. 

This last round of relief brings the total direct cash outlays to Kent businesses this year to over $800,000.