Selectmen agree on senior tax break

Settling on one of the three senior tax breaks suggested to them, the selectmen agreed to propose to voters that the upper income limit for participation in the town’s senior tax deferment program be raised from $55,000 to $65,000 a year.
Under the deferment program, qualifying seniors can live in their homes for years without paying annual tax bills from the town. The program allows the accumulated tax debt to be paid when their house is eventually sold — because they’ve moved, or by their heirs.
“Pensions are still very, very flat. Social Security has not increased at all. Our cost of living has fallen behind our income,” said Dr. John Fisher, president of the OWLS senior citizens group, urging the selectmen to act.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Assessor Al Garzi was recommending the change from $55,000 to $65,000 as a first step — with a further increase to $75,000 possible, based on how many people take advantage of the deferments.
“Al said change it from 55 to 65 — how many are out there, we don’t know — and then consider if you want to go to 75, based on the response,” Marconi said.
The selectmen agreed by consensus to put the deferment program on a path to approval that Marconi described: drafting of a revised ordinance by Garzi, a review by town attorneys, then a public hearing followed by a town meeting where voters will consider approving the revised ordinance.
In the Jan. 23 discussion, all five members of the Board of Selectmen appeared to support the change.
Three proposals
It was early in last year’s budget proceedings that Fisher, the OWLS president, put forward three proposals to reduce the tax burden on seniors.
One was the deferment program the selectmen are now pursuing — except Fisher had proposed raising the income limit more, from $55,000 to $75,000.
Currently, all Ridgefield seniors get a $1,048 tax credit that they can deduct from their tax payments to the town, and Fisher had also asked the selectmen to increase that to $1,200.
Fisher’s third proposal was a “freeze” against any tax increases that seniors could take advantage of once they reach the age of 75.
“What I gathered from being at meetings, and also newspaper reports, you were not terribly thrilled,” Fisher told the selectmen Jan. 23.
Now, Fisher said, he was “scaling back” his ambitions and hoped they’d pursue at least the deferment program, which benefits only relatively hard-pressed senior taxpayers.
“I did get the impression the board would be interested in doing something to help seniors,” Fisher said.
Assessor Garzi proposed some changes to the ordinance — designed to make the program more user-friendly — that he will work into the revised wording, Marconi said.
Earlier in the fall the selectmen had reviewed research by Garzi on the potential costs of proposals under discussion.
Currently, the tax credit program giving any taxpayer 65 or older $1,048 off their tax bill is enjoyed by 1,675 households that receive a total of just over $1,739,000 a year, Garzi said.
Increasing the tax credit from $1,048 to $1,200 as requested by the OWLS — a $152 per taxpayer increase — would cost the town’s other taxpayers an additional $254,600 a year, Garzi projected.
A smaller increase, to $1,100, would cost $87,100 annually, he said.
On the proposal to freeze taxes for property owners over 75, Garzi said there were 949 households with taxpayers over 75 that would qualify. He projected that with annual tax increases of 2% by the town, the proposal to exempt people over 75 from the increases would require about $225,000 a year more from other taxpayers.
As for the senior tax deferment program the selectmen want to raise the limits on, Garzi said that currently — with only senior households with annual incomes of $55,000 or less eligible — there are 47 senior taxpayers deferring their taxes.
The total of deferred taxes is about $2 million, Garzi said.
Town official say they don’t know how many more people would try to take advantage of the program if the limits were raised, or how much would be deferred.
For all the months of public discussion, Garzi has had relatively few taxpayers show interest in the deferment program’s potential expansion.
“He said he’s had two, three people inquire about it,” Marconi said.
Editor's note: The print version of this story ran with a few typographical errors. The Press has switched systems this week and the old, unrevised version of the copy was placed in print instead of the new, revised version here. We apologize for the error.