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Property tax relief can soften fire losses

There is one ray of light for those who lost their homes in the recent fires in Jackson County. It won’t replace what was lost, but it could soften the financial blow.

State law allows the county assessor’s office to reduce the property taxes owed on homes and other property destroyed by fire. The Application for Proration of Property Taxes Due to Damage by Fire or Act of God is available outside the Jackson County Assessor’s Office at 10 S. Oakdale, Room 300, or online.

The tax year runs from July 1 to June 30. Properties are valued Jan. 1 and assessed on July 1. That means owners of homes that burned after July 1 are liable for the full tax on their property from July 1 to the date it was destroyed. State law says the tax will be assessed for each month the home was occupied and for the full month during which the fire occurred, but not after that. So owners of homes that burned Sept. 8 would owe taxes for three months, as long as they file the form right away.

The application form can be filed any time until June 30 of 2021 to receive credit for the current year, and the Assessor’s Office plans to automatically reduce the values of all damaged property by Jan. 1 of next year. But to qualify for the reduction on taxes due in November, owners need to file the form right away.

Taxes on the value of the land are unaffected by fire damage, but most homes represent the majority of the property value. Owners of manufactured homes often own only the home itself and lease the land, so their property tax bill can be almost entirely eliminated.

The Assessor’s Office has been doing a good job of reaching out to displaced homeowners, sending staff members to the evacuation shelter at the Expo to help people apply for tax reductions.

Coping with the loss of one’s home and possessions can be overwhelming, but those who have been displaced should make sure they apply for every form of assistance available.