Noting that a number of “bright, informed” residents are “looking for a gesture from the town,” regarding additional tax relief, Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze stressed that he wanted his “[board members] to have the dialogue” during a January 7 special meeting.
Could they make a recommendation to the Legislative Council to enact non-income-based relief programs, age-based programs, or other initiatives? Board members and First Selectman Pat Llodra considered several ways to bring added relief to senior taxpayers in Newtown. No formal motions resulted from the discussion, however.
Tax Collector Carol Mahoney had looked at a program in place in Fairfield where assets other than income weigh into the tax relief equation.
Member Joe Kearney wanted to be sure the town is “directing help where it’s really needed,” and that “there could be a revolt among people if they knew that someone had [for example] 74 percent of their taxes paid for if they had other assets … so I am a big proponent of assessment of assets.”
The board considered an option of placing a freeze on increases for certain households, which would act like a reverse mortgage taking the form of a lien on the property until the house sold, he said. Ms Mahoney warned that “when people hear ‘lien’ they shy away.”
Mr Kortze asked if finance board members would favor asking the Legislative Council to further consider such a program. Harrison Waterbury was “not sure we know enough,” and wanted to learn more about that process.
Ms Mahoney said, “It would be important to let people know there would be a lien filed against the property.”
Regarding senior relief, Mr Kortze raised the idea of a non-income-based program. The suggestion is “borne out of hundreds of conversations” that he has had with seniors.
In Redding, tax increases are not applied to senior households, Mrs Llodra said, a “condition that is set by legislation.” Many seniors in Redding say they would be unable to stay in town otherwise, she said.
Not intending to “oversell or undersell” the idea, Mrs Llodra wondered “what it would mean” for the town if Newtown had a similar program.
Heads of households who are not seniors, who may earn less than some seniors, would “basically be subsidizing” those earning the tax breaks, said Mr Kearney. “It’s not fair to even be talking about this.”
Member John Godin said, “I would have a hard time looking at non-income-based [relief] with no basis other than age.”
Bringing conversation around to the budget, to which taxes are tied, Mr Kearney said, “The best way to benefit seniors and all in town is to limit growth of our budget.”
Michael Portnoy was not in favor of the idea, and member Jim Filan said, “I am not against looking at some of this, but giving [tax breaks] to people who may not need it does not strike me as wise.”
Seniors are a growing demographic, said Mr Kortze. “I also believe there is a financial benefit.”
Regarding Liberty at Newtown ande Regency, two local age-restricted complexes, he said, “You’re not going to have a family move in.” The board “should not discard” the idea, he said.
Having earlier expressed something similar, Mrs Llodra had said, “I am just sharing what I heard in Redding; they said it has to do with social benefits to their community and the social mix of keeping seniors in town.”
Mr Kortze said, “We have heard a lot from the senior community and single households — they believe they have been paying for a long time and they say they don’t derive benefits. Add it all up and it’s better if they’re here than not here, so it’s worth a dialogue.”
He feels it is “a big mistake if we don’t make a resolution for seniors in a bigger cross section than what’s there now.” Although it may be difficult for the board “to take financial hats off,” Mr Kortze said, “We have a responsibility to the taxpayers and they’re asking for help, and they’re not going away. We’re going to need to find a common ground.”
Concerned that the seniors will feel like “the odd man out,” he said, “We’ll need to get a budget passed.”
“I think the whole issue is [to work] on the budget,” said Mr Waterbury.
Mrs Llodra said, “We are really going to suffer the consequences of a zero increase budget. We’ll lose people without providing resources.”
“The budget is out of balance and getting worse,” said Mr Kearney.
“I don’t disagree,” said Mr Kortze. To Mrs Llodra, he said, “There is an interesting and harsh irony in what you said. Taxpayers have been saying zero [increase in the budget]. The taxpayer has to be engaged; we need their help to do things.”
“I totally agree,” Mrs Llodra said. “I need to bring forward a budget that meets their expectations, but if it gets to referendum and fails, where do I go? I feel like I am doing harm now — how do I get the taxpayer on my side?”
Returning to the non-income-based relief program, Mr Kortze cited his “stubbornness and optimism,” asking members to continue talk on that topic. Mr Kearney thought that more people would be “upset by it” than benefit from it.
“I can’t argue your logic,” said Mr Kortze, but asked that they “have the dialogue.”
Learn more about tax relief options now in place at Newtown-ct.gov, specifically the Frequently Asked Questions link on the Tax Collector’s page, which details benefits for 100 percent disabled homeowners, and elderly benefits.
Among other points, the page states: “The Tax Office offers a Newtown Benefit to homeowners who are 65 years or older and have met certain income requirements. Applications are available between March 1st thru May 15th of any given year.” Contact the Tax Office at 203-270-4320 for additional information.