Alaska Snowbirds may face unexpected tax hit

Published: Oct. 4, 2018 at 6:13 PM AKDT
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Snowbirds beware, if you're flying away from Alaska for too long, you could find yourself writing a big back-tax bill.

Channel 2 News became aware of the risk, after a longtime Anchorage resident realized the city is using PFD lists to identify Anchorage residents who may be improperly claiming a property tax exemption.

The city is looking at individuals who don't receive a PFD, and comparing them to homeowners claiming either a senior, veteran or resident exemption.

"I ended up having to write a check for that $3,200 for this year plus the two previous years," said Thomas Hipsher, a retired dentist who owns a home in South Anchorage and spends winters in the Lower 48 in his RV.

That tax shock came after the city yanked Hipsher's senior property tax exemption, and re-assessed the tax he owed, including prior years, an amount that came to nearly $9,000.

His house in Anchorage's Southport neighborhood is his only home. He has lived and worked in Alaska for decades, banks here, has cars registered here, and has not set up residence anywhere else.

He's happy to be in retirement with the time and means to travel during Alaska's cold winter months, and has also, until now, enjoyed what he calls a well-earned $150,000 senior property tax exemption.

But Anchorage's law is clear. If you don't own and occupy your home as a main residence for at least 185 days, you're not eligible.

"Is it fair? I don't think anything's fair on every level," said Anchorage ombudsman Darrel Hess, who researched back to 2003 when the residency requirement was lengthened to 185 days from 30 days. "But is it right that somebody could live in a home for 30 days and get the same property tax exemption as somebody who lives there for 185 days. What should be the number of days required? Or should there be no requirements?"

Residency requirements for Alaska's Permanent Fund Dividend closely parallel those for property exemptions, so names of Alaskans not receiving the dividend became a sort of auditing tool for the city.

The idea being that If you're not eligible for the dividend, which has a 6 month or 180-day residency requirement, you're probably also not eligible for a break on your property taxes.

Hipsher thinks it's a somewhat unfair standard, and his irritation at being considered a non-resident is detectable.

He's interested in seeing the Anchorage Assembly look at a fix, something that doesn't punish snowbirds for enjoying the perks of a life of hard work. In his estimation, many snowbirds only have five to ten years to enjoy retirement travel before they're restricted by age or illness. He wants to make the most of that time, and maintain eligibility for a property tax status he believes he and others have spent a lifetime earning.