Tax break for Ridgefield seniors passes
Pay taxes someday, whenever — let the kids pay it.
The option of indefinitely putting off the payment of town property taxes has now been extended to senior citizens with incomes up to $65,000. The tax deferment program, which dates back to 1997, had previously been limited to seniors with incomes of $55,000 or less.
The change was approved Wednesday night, Sept. 18, at a special town meeting of about a dozen voters — plus the Board of Selectmen.
The deferred taxes are all eventually paid — often with the sale of the property, either because the homeowner moves, or by heirs if the taxpayer dies while still a resident. A related change adopted was an increase in the amount of time a deceased taxpayer’s estate has to repay deferred taxes and accrued interest, from six months to a year.
“What would be the rate of interest on the deferred taxes?” John Fisher of the OWLS asked during a public hearing that preceded the town meeting.
“Right now, it’s 3 percent,” Assessor Al Garzi said. “We’re charging 3 percent, non-compounded.”
Joe Savino wondered if raising the income limit from $55,000 to $65,000 would substantially increase the amount of taxes deferred. (Taxes unpaid by the program participants are made up by a slightly higher tax rate for the town’s remaining taxpayers.)
“The program has been around about 20 years. We’ve got 45 people deferring $2 million in taxes,” said Garzi, who administers the program.
(The town’s annual budget is $140 million, of which about $125 million is paid directly in general property taxes.)
“Every year it’s a person’s tax bill. We’ve got one person who’s been on it since ’98 and she owes us about $150,000.”
How many taxpayers join the program in a year?
“It could be anywhere from one to five,” said Garzi. ”We had two new people this year.”
People also drop out of the program — they die, or move, or their income goes up — so it doesn’t just keep growing unchecked.
At the town meeting, moderated by attorney Sharon Dornfeld, there was no discussion and the vote was unanimous.
The motion to approve the change was made by Fisher, who had proposed the program along with two other tax-break suggestions the selectmen declined to adopt after months of on-and-off discussions.
The other two programs suggested by Fisher that the selectmen didn’t pursue were: an increase in the town’s “tax break for the elderly,” which is available to all seniors 65 and older, from the current $1,048 to either $1,100 or $1,200; and a proposal to freeze property owners’ taxes against annual rate increases once they reach the age of 75.
The selectmen had chosen to support the tax deferment program while passing on the other two proposals, because it cost the town’s other taxpayers less than the others would have, and the deferment is “means tested” so it’s available only to lower income seniors who really need the help.