AP NEWS

Debate rages over property tax credit for seniors

January 10, 2019

GREENWICH — Efforts to grant an extension on a property tax credit for senior citizens in Greenwich stalled as one member of the Board of Selectmen seeks to expand the benefit to help more town residents.

“I’d like this board to speak to the issue and say our senior citizens need help and the amounts we’re giving are not adequate,” Selectman Sandy Litvack said at a board meeting Thursday morning. “We do have leeway. We do want people to stay. We want people to age and be able to stay in their homes, and we want them do it with dignity. This should be available to them.”

The Board of Selectmen deferred the vote on extending the existing tax credit until at least its next meeting on Jan. 24. It currently offers a credit, based on a sliding scale by income, for seniors who make up to $xx,000 annually.

The selectmen are now looking to extend the credit to residents with disabilities and to raise the income levels of eligibility for seniors.

“A person living in Greenwich making $75,000 with a family of four is really pressed financially,” Litvack said. “Why shouldn’t the town be more responsive to that and give more aid? I mean $600 (as a tax credit) is nice but does nothing to anybody.”

At his request, members of the Commission on Aging will bring data to the Jan. 24 meeting showing how many more seniors could benefit from the tax credit if the upper limit were raised.

“We’ll take a look at it see what we can come up with,” Commission Chair Patricia Burns said.

Other communities set higher thresholds for eligibility, said Lori Contadino, director of the Commission in Aging. But those town also have higher mill rates than Greenwich, she said. The commission will look at how other communities to determine the levels for their tax credits.

“I’m not sure how successful we’ll be, but we’ll give it our best shot,” Contadino said.

Litvack said he wasn’t arguing for the change just “because we can raise it, we should raise it.” He said the income level should be increased because it is “woefully under” where it should be.

He praised Contadino, Town Assessor Lauren Elliott and Tax Collector Howard Richman for publicizing the tax credit by sending out notices with every tax bill in December.

But according to First Selectman Peter Tesei, the board does not have the power to simply make more people eligible. It can recommend to the BET that the eligibility requirements be expanded, he said. The focus at the Jan. 24 meeting will be on how that could be done.

The clock ticking for the tax credit, which has been in place since 2000, because it will expire on June 30, which is the end of the fiscal year.

The Commission on Aging is seeking a new 10-year extension of the credit, which also needs the approval of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Representative Town Meeting. The commission is now focused on securing that extension.

“It would be nice to get more people in the program, but our biggest fear right now is getting this extended,” Burns said. There was some pushback from the RTM five years ago, when the last extension was granted, she said.

“Our greatest fear is that the RTM will say we don’t need this,” Burn said. “We want this sunset extended 10 years, not five and then we would have time to push it up to do more.”

Kip Burgweger, a member of the commission as well as the RTM, said it was up to the BET to set the numbers for the tax credit. He also noted the challenge of getting three different boards in town to agree.

Litvack said he understood that but said he wanted the selectmen to send a clear signal to both the BET and RTM.

“We need to get the ball rolling in the right direction starting here,” Litvack said. “If the BET and the RTM don’t want to go along with it, that’s their decision. But we’ll do what’s right.”

Under the current tax credit, seniors who are town residents and own their homes would be eligible for a credit if they earn less than $24,000 in household income. There is a sliding scale up to seniors who earn between $50,001 and $60,000.

The credit is not automatically granted. Seniors must apply through the town assessor’s office, which evaluates all the applications.

The selectmen agreed that residents with disabilities should quality for the tax relief. Tesei said he has heard from residents who wanted the benefit extended in this way, and he agreed with them.

Elliott said her records show 22 town residents receive the state’s $1,000 exemption for disabled individuals. The change could make those residents and others, if they qualify under the income levels, eligible for the town’s tax credit.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly