Northampton Updates Real Estate Tax Relief Ordinance

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By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton supervisors on Tuesday night unanimously voted to update the county’s ordinance on exempting certain elderly or disabled persons from paying the full amount of their real estate taxes.

A person may be eligible for the exemption if he or she is at least age 65 or is permanently and totally disabled.

The real property to be exempted from real estate taxes must be owned and occupied as the sole dwelling of the eligible person. 

The person may hold the property alone or with a spouse as a tenant or tenants for life. A property is eligible if it is held in a revocable trust in which the occupants hold the power of revocation. A property is eligible also if the property is held in an irrevocable trust and the occupants possess a life estate.

The total combined income of the property owners may not have exceeded $50,000 in the year before the taxable year, including the income of any relatives living in the home.

The property owners’ combined net worth as of Dec. 31 in the year before the taxable year may not exceed $100,000.

The eligible person or persons must apply for the tax exemption after Jan. 1 and before April 15 of the applicable tax year.

For tax year 2022, applications were received from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28, but there will be a second application window from July 27 to Aug. 31.

If the applicant’s total household income is $20,000 or less, the net worth of the tax exemption is 90%; a combined income of $20,001 to $30,000 gives an 80% tax exemption; a combined income of $30,001 to $40,000 gives a 60% tax exemption; and a combined income of $40,001 to $50,000 gives a 40% tax exemption.

The amount of annual real estate taxes exempted for any one property may not exceed $1,000.

Sign Ordinance

Northampton County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski informed supervisors that the county’s sign ordinance is under review and he will be recommending “common sense” changes to the ordinance to allow businesses to advertise themselves while preventing the creation of public nuisances.

“We don’t want have huge billboards in front of every business, we don’t want to have flashing movie-screen signs on every building up and down Route 13 or any of our side roads, but … businesses do need some signage to advertise what they do” and to provide directions and other information, he said.

According to Kolakowski, some of the flaws in Northampton’s current sign ordinance are:

  • A requirement that a sign be 100 feet from a road, which the county administrator deemed excessive.
  • A requirement that a sign on the front of a building facing the road should be no more than 200 square feet or 10% of the area of the wall, whichever is less. Depending on the size of the building, that could makes for a “really small sign” that’s not visible from the road, Kolakowski said.
  • A requirement that signs should be removed if they have not been used for two years, which is not monitored by the county.

One part of the ordinance that Kolakowski believes should be more restrictive is the section that allows an event sign to be installed as many as 60 days before the event. The ordinance does not limit how many events can be held, essentially permitting someone to claim an event is scheduled every two months and keep the sign up all year.

Director of Zoning Susan McGhee added that her office has asked Northampton residents to take down signs for candidates for political office until Sept. 8, or 60 days before Election Day, following the ordinance.

Supervisor Dixon Leatherbury agreed that the sign ordinance must be re-examined because “a business with no sign is a sign of no business.”

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