Senior Tax Breaks Should Continue To Be Based On Need

To the Editor:

The Legislative Council is considering amending Newtown’s senior tax relief program. According to the Chairman of the Board of Finance Newtown has one of the more generous programs in the state. I am in support of our senior tax relief program. It was created in response to the real economic needs of our senior residents. Our property tax system charges less tax to those home owners with lower valued homes and in addition we have reached out to specific seniors who needed additional help, it’s the right thing to do. It is important to understand that the other taxpayers in Newtown generously pay additional taxes to fund this need based program.

The changes being considered by The Legislative Council have some concerning additional feature. The changes move Newtown away from the concept of need-based tax relief and in to the area of a special interest group tax break.  The first change is to add an additional bracket of senior who earn more than $65,000 and up to $70,000 in adjusted income. There are many people in town who earn less than $65,000, pay rent or have a mortgage who are not included in this tax relief program. To create a fourth additional tier for those earning between $65-70,000 seems unwarranted.

The Legislative Council has been wise to add an asset test to the program to assure that tax relief is need based. However in the asset test the council has excluded the value of the senior’s equity in their homes. Many seniors have low or no mortgages at all and the equity in their home is substantial. If this program is need based then the asset test should include all assets, it should not be designed to give tax relief to the wealthy.  The council also needs to identify the upper limit on assets in the ordinance with some reasonable formula tied to median income or some other easily understood measure. With no formula the Legislative Council will be under pressure to create a high threshold moving us away from the need basis program we have today.

Finally enhancements proposed appear to be more geared to special interest group’s objection to the recent re-evaluation rather than need based.  The re-evaluations have been an issue not only with seniors from age restricted communities, but also newer homes and waterfront homes in town.    The re-evaluation issues should be resolved with the board of assessment appeals not through a tax relief program for only seniors. It should be an issue of fairness not special interests.

Newtown has an excellent program of senior tax relief based on need, one which I whole heartedly support. The tax relief is paid for by the remaining taxpayers of Newtown. Enhancements have to address a need and also be fair to those who pay for the program. Creating a new income bracket of up to $70,000, with a less than a total asset base test, does not seem to meet that test.

Bruce Walczak

12 Glover Avenue, Newtown                        April 30, 2014

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