Salt Lake County will grant retirement centers and group homes for the handicapped the same residential property tax exemption now given by Utah law to owners of homes, condominiums and apartment complexes.

In a Friday decision, county commissioners convened as the Board of Equalization and determined that retirement and group-home facilities qualify as primary residences and should receive the exemption - equal to 25 percent of a residential property's taxable value.Because nursing homes provide their residents with various levels of medical and custodial care in addition to a place to live, nursing homes will receive a partial residential exemption, the board decided. Nursing home exemptions will be based on criteria to be worked out between the county assessor, county attorney's office and the local nursing home industry.

Attorneys representing several local retirement and care facilities had applied for the exemption last year, claiming the homes are the primary residences of their residents and thus deserve the same tax exemption allowed for other residential properties.

The exemption ruling also entitles facility owners who apply for and are granted the exemption to a refund of overpaid taxes for the past five years.

County officials aren't sure yet how big a financial impact the ruling will have on county tax revenues, but say it's likely to be substantial. It's also unclear whether the lower tax bills will be passed on to residents in the form of lower fees to reside in exempted facilities.