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Groton approves program for additional property tax relief for eligible seniors, disabled residents
The Day - 8/10/2022
Aug. 11—GROTON — The town plans to increase the property tax relief possible under a program for eligible seniors and disabled residents in need of assistance.
The Town Council voted 5-4 last week to approve a local tax abatement program as a supplement to the state-required "Circuit Breaker" program, an existing property tax relief program for eligible people who are elderly or disabled. The resolution passed by the council notes that some "older and disabled residents of the Town of Groton face very serious financial hardships that may leave them unable to pay their real estate property tax."
The 'Circuit Breaker' program offers property tax credits of up to $1,250 for a married couple and up to $1,000 for a single person, with the amount of the award depending on income level, according to a town document. To be eligible for the 2022 program, a married couple had to have an income of $46,400 or less, and a single person had to have an income of $38,100 or less.
After their initial application is approved, people have to re-apply to the program biennially.
With the addition of the new program, the town essentially will raise the maximum possible amount of property tax relief by 50%, so a married couple will be eligible for a tax credit of up to $1,875, and a single taxpayer will be eligible for a tax credit of up to $1,500, according to the resolution.
The Town Council previously created the Property Tax Abatement Study Committee to look at whether sufficient support was being given to seniors and disabled, said Town Manager John Burt.
John Wirzbicki, chair of the Property Tax Abatement Study Committee, the group tasked by the council with studying the issue, presented the committee's report at a Town Council Committee of the Whole meeting last month. Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner acknowledged late Councilor Joe Zeppieri, who made the referral to the Council and "made it his fight to see action on this item," and said it was a privilege to serve with him.
Wirzbicki said the consensus of the committee was that if the town were to implement a program, this option was the way to go. He said it would benefit the most needy portion of the population, is easy for town staff to administer, and it also is easy to determine the financial impact of the program.
"The Circuit Breaker is a graduated program, in that as the qualifying income level of the recipient goes up, the amount of tax relief goes down," the report states. "This means that the lower income individuals will get a greater benefit from this program, which the committee believes should be a goal of any program for tax relief."
The report cites that in 2020, Groton had 246 'Circuit Breaker' accounts, which amounts to $128,934.37 overall in annual tax abatement, or lost revenue to the town. The impact of the 50% increase is estimated at $64,467.19 in tax relief to participants, or in lost revenue to the town.
Town Manager John Burt said the program will be applicable, starting next tax year. He said the town's Finance/Tax Department is updating materials to include the program.
The council voted last Tuesday to approve the new program, with Councilors Bruce Jones, Melinda Cassiere, Rachael Franco, Juliette Parker, and Mayor Juan Melendez Jr., in favor of the tax abatement program, while Councilors Scott Westervelt, David McBride, Bumgardner, and Portia Bordelon were opposed.
Bordelon supported more research on all possible options and a public hearing, while Bumgardner also called for the Council to "slow down" to do its due diligence. Westervelt said there is a lot more work that can be done on this, and there are a number of people in town that this will impact negatively.
"Once upon a time, I was in the Navy, and I had kids coming to me on the boat, and they're going to sea and they're leaving their wife and kids at home... I mean they're on food stamps, they can't afford milk, and now we're giving away tax money that we don't need to," Westervelt said.
McBride said he's not saying he's not in favor of the program, but questioned the timing: "I think it's fiscally irresponsible to change a program, that's going to impact the budget, not in the budgetary cycle that we go through and what's approved by the charter and so forth."
But other councilors supported going forward with the program at this time.
At last month's Committee of the Whole meeting, Parker spoke in support of the program for seniors and disabled. She noted that as times are tough and inflation is increasing, they're not getting a break anywhere, so any additional assistance would be greatly appreciated.
Franco said there are numerous seniors and disabled people in the community who are struggling on fixed incomes.
She said she hears a lot about people moving south and saying taxes are less there, especially when people are retired or a senior or maybe even disabled.
"My concern is to try and help keep our seniors in our community because there has been an outcry from seniors and some disabled people that have said it's very difficult for them to stay here, and they want to stay here because their family's here and they don't want to have to move away," she said.
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