When Newtown property owners got their local tax bills last year, there was concern and consternation among some people for whom the basic calculus of assessment and taxation seemed to have changed. In addition to the 3.5 percent increase in the tax rate for 2013-14, certain property owners were facing assessment upgrades in the recently completed revaluation. Owners of waterfront homes and other “high value” properties throughout town and those who bought over-55 condos were hit with the taxation double-whammy. The news was especially grim for the senior citizens among them. With limited and fixed incomes, some elders opened their tax bills and had to face yet another life decision: whether to abandon Newtown for a more affordable place to live. Now, nearly a year later, the town is taking steps to try to address their dilemma.
The Legislative Council’s Ordinance Committee conducted a public hearing this week on a revision of the town’s senior tax relief provisions. Newtown’s newly adopted budget, in addition to forgoing a tax rate increase this year, includes $1.65 million allocated to reduce the tax bills of qualifying senior citizens. For the first time, a new tier of benefits for seniors with annual household incomes as high as $70,000 will be offered. Property tax reductions range along the income scale from $800 to $2,000. (Those living in homes assessed at over 200 percent of the median assessed value of all Newtown homes will not be eligible for the tax breaks.)
There are two ways to look at tax breaks for a special class of citizens. One view suggests that there should be an a la carte menu for taxation, where citizens pay only for services they use. This idea surfaced at a forum hosted last fall by the Board of Finance, which was attended more than 100 local senior citizens. The town’s Finance Director Robert Tait was asked whether senior taxpayers could be absolved of paying taxes for education since they had no children in the schools. (He told them “No”; it is against the law.)
The other view is that we are all in this together. People who live on private roads pay taxes for pothole repair on town roads. Newlyweds pay taxes for senior centers. The affluent pay taxes for social services. And empty nesters pay taxes for schools. It is this cohesiveness that makes a community like Newtown strong. And the signal hallmark of that strength is that this togetherness is not a just a convenience but a commitment; we don’t leave people behind when they can’t afford our collective efforts to improve Newtown. We have to stand together behind tax breaks for senior citizens.