Torn between an urge to help seniors struggling with tax bills and the cost that senior tax breaks put on other property owners, the selectmen are moving toward a consensus that the fairest way to help seniors would be to expand a program that allows people over 65 \u2014 with limited incomes \u2014 to remain in their homes but defer paying taxes on them. The selectmen appear wary of two other tax reduction proposals for seniors that were put forward by John Fisher of the OWLS during last winter\u2019s budget discussions. One proposal the selectmen were cool toward was an increase to the $1,048 tax credit senior property owners receive. The other was a \u201ctax freeze\u201d protecting seniors against town property tax increases once they reach age 75. The tax deferment program the selectmen would like to expand is currently available to senior citizens with incomes of $55,000 or less. The selectmen spoke of raising the permitted income level to $65,000 at their Dec. 12 meeting. First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Assessor Al Garzi would draft a formal proposal \u2014 probably for consideration by the selectmen the second week of January. \u201cAl\u2019s going to go back and restructure it and come back, put it in formal words,\u201d Marconi said. Tax credits, freeze The senior tax credit that Ridgefielders over 65 can now sign up for, reducing their annual tax bills, currently allows a $1,048 reduction to each senior property owner. Fisher of the OWLS had proposed increasing the tax credit to $1,200. The $1,048 tax credit is enjoyed by 1,675 taxpayers over 65, amounting to about $1,739,000 a year in taxes that aren\u2019t collected \u2014 and are made up by younger taxpayers \u2014 according to Assessor Garzi. Increasing the tax credit from $1,048 to $1,200, as requested, would cost the town\u2019s other taxpayers an additional $254,600 a year, Garzi projected. \u201cRaising the tax credit is a big impact, in a year we\u2019re cutting back personnel,\u201d Marconi said. The proposal to freeze seniors\u2019 taxes, so they don\u2019t have to worry about annual tax increases once they reach age 75, also had the selectmen concerned about costs. \u201cI think we don\u2019t want to go there,\u201d Marconi said. Calculations Garzi provided to the board\u2019s previous discussion of the issue back in October showed the town at that point had 949 households with taxpayers over 75, and exempting them from tax increases that run at about 2% annually would add about $225,000 a year to what other taxpayers have to pay. Marconi laid out his thinking in a Dec. 17 interview. \u201cThere\u2019s no question that John Fisher representing the seniors of our community would have liked to have had a tax freeze for those over 75, in their homes,\u201d Marconi said. \u201cBut the cost to the general taxpayer would have been into the six figures \u2014 it was a couple hundred thousand, which the board felt was too much to absorb at this time, especially given the personnel cutbacks that the Board of Selectmen will be proposing for the 2020 budget cycle.\u201d The cutbacks include positions eliminated through retirements and layoffs in the course of the current fiscal year, expected to show up in next year\u2019s budget as a reduction of about five and half positions. \u201cWe did the incentivised retirements and, in addition to that, we did two layoffs,\u201d Marconi said. \u201cThe estimated total savings \u2014 because you need to take into consideration a fully loaded position, it\u2019s not just salary,\u201d Marconi said, \u201cit includes all the other benefits, the biggest being health. \u2026 When you add those positions, it will yield a little over a $500,000 reduction in what we will be asking for the public to approve for the 2020 budget.\u201d Deferment program During their Dec. 12 discussion, the selectmen were more amenable to increasing the income limit for the deferment program \u2014 since those taxes, though deferred, are eventually collected. \u201cI still feel increasing the income is the way to go,\u201d said Selectman Steve Zemo. \u201cIt keeps the rest of the citizens whole.\u201d Marconi said talking to officials from other towns reinforced his belief that Ridgefield already does well by its seniors. \u201cWe do a lot more than a lot of towns do,\u201d Marconi said. \u201cNew Canaan said, \u2018You do a deferment and a tax credit?\u2019 \u201d Each of those two programs runs about $2 million a year, according to Garzi. Selectman Bob Hebert lamented \u2014 but accepted \u2014 the difficulties of increasing the tax credit program as requested by Fisher of the OWLS. In addition to projecting a $254,000 cost for raising the tax credit from $1,048 to $1,200, Garzi had projected what a smaller increase \u2014 from $1,048 to $1,100 \u2014 would cost the town\u2019s other taxpayers. That $52 increase to seniors\u2019 tax credit would mean another $87,100 a year on everyone else\u2019s tax burden. \u201cI\u2019d like to do it,\u201d Hebert said. \u201cBut if we can\u2019t afford it, we can\u2019t afford it.\u201d Costs Raising the cut-off point for participation in the town\u2019s \u201ctax deferment\u201d program for the elderly, as the selectmen would like to do, could also have some short-term costs even though the money is eventually collected when the seniors either sell their homes and move, or pass away and the properties are sold by their heirs. Given that currently only households with annual incomes of $55,000 or less qualify; there aren\u2019t that many seniors receiving the tax deferments. \u201cThe income level is very low \u2014 $55,000,\u201d Garzi said. \u201cEvery year, we have some 47 people deferring their entire tax bill \u2026 It goes into uncollectable.\u201d \u201cThe people who take advantage of it, need it,\u201d added Marconi. The total of deferred taxes the town is carrying totals about $2 million, according to Garzi. Overall, uncollectible taxes represent a very small percentage since the town has a good record of collecting nearly all of the taxes owed each year. \u201cWe\u2019re at what now, 99%?\u201d Garzi said. With an average Ridgefield tax bill running about $10,000 a year, if someone was on the program for 10 years he or she could accumulate a deferred tax debt of about $100,000. When a property is eventually sold the town is at the front of line to get paid, leading some banks that hold mortgages to be uncooperative with homeowners seeking to defer taxes, according to Garzi. \u201cThe non-local banks wouldn\u2019t allow it,\u201d he said. \u201cThe local banks would allow it.\u201d It\u2019s conceivable \u2014 but unlikely \u2014 that a debt in deferred taxes could build up enough to be greater than the sales price of a property. \u201cWill we ever exceed the value of a property? We haven\u2019t gotten there yet,\u201d Garzi said. With the $55,000 income limit acting as a kind of means test, the program isn\u2019t growing much. \u201cWe might get one or two people a year,\u201d Marconi said. There\u2019s long been a belief among town officials that seniors don\u2019t like deferring taxes they owe \u00a0\u2014 they want to feel they\u2019re carrying their weight, and don\u2019t want property they\u2019re leaving their kids to be burdened with a tax debt. But Selectman Zemo wondered if this might change as the senior population shifts from the people who lived through World War II to the post-war baby-boom generation. \u201cBaby boomers, they\u2019d probably be very comfortable with it,\u201d Zemo said. Raising the income limit from the current $55,000 might bring more senior taxpayers into the program. \u201cWe\u2019ve had some people come in for $65,000 and $75,000,\u201d Garzi said. The selectmen thought raising the limit so the tax deferments are more widely available would be a way to help more needy seniors. \u201cIt\u2019s a great tool for people to stay in their homes \u2014 with a means test,\u201d Marconi said.