More than 16,600 Nevada seniors will see what, for them, amounts to a tax increase next year.
For years, seniors had the option of a tax refund on part of their property taxes or rent. That went away this year as lawmakers removed funding for those refunds from the budget.
The program cost the state $4.4 million this fiscal year and was projected to cost $5.6 million in each of the coming two years.
Carol Aiello-Sala, administrator of the Division of Aging and Disability Services, said eliminating the program was a matter of priorities.
"Basically what happened with the budget situation, we had to prioritize our programs and look at what services were most critical specifically in our division," she said.
She said the decision was made to use some of the senior tax rebate money to support elder protective services. That program investigates and protects seniors who are victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation or isolation.
"Elder protective services is just such a huge demand," she said. "You can't cap that caseload."
The original plan, she said, eliminated Senior Tax Assistance refunds to all those who were renting or had incomes above the federal poverty line. Of the 16,609 who received checks this year, she said, 15,532 were above the poverty line.
"When we looked at those at or below the federal poverty line and just homeowners, that left only about 1,100 people to get the program," she said.
But when lawmakers reopened budgets to make deeper cuts, she said, they wiped out the program.
Carson City Assessor Dave Dawley said that county officials historically determined who was eligible for the refunds but that it was the state that mailed them the checks. For fiscal 2011, the average annual income for those eligible was $15,887. The average refund granted was $267.
In Carson City, the total refunded for this fiscal year was $145,769 - an average of $256 for each of the 570 owners and renters who qualified for the program.
In Douglas County, the 278 who met program requirements received an average refund of $283, for a total of $78,583 from the state. Douglas seniors had the highest average refund of any county.
Churchill County issued 186 checks totaling $43,319 - an average of $233.
The program is aimed primarily at low-income seniors, but those with household incomes of up to $28,677 were able to qualify for a partial refund.
Aiello-Sala said the division expects to hear from some of those people next year when they discover the tax program is no more.