Selectmen broadens senior tax deferment plan

Changes designed to improve the town’s tax deferment program for the elderly — opening it up to a somewhat larger population of moderate income seniors, and making it more user-friendly — will go to a town meeting in June.
The tax deferment program currently allows indefinite postponement of town property tax payments by Ridgefield taxpayers over 65 with incomes of $55,000 a year or less. The selectmen want to raise that income limit for participation to $65,000 a year.
The selectmen also proposed adjusting the amount of time allowed for a deceased taxpayer’s estate to pay up previously deferred taxes and interest, increasing it from the current six months to a full year.
The selectmen reviewed a draft of the proposed changes last week, and reached a consensus that the revisions should go to a town meeting, though they didn’t vote or set a date.
This is the first year of an initiative by the selectmen to increase town meeting participation by scheduling periodic town meetings a few times a year that would each have votes with numerous issues that had come up in the preceding few months, as opposed to calling another town meeting whenever an issue arises that needs to be voted on by townspeople.
At their meeting last week, board members didn’t have the date of the next periodic town meeting handy — late June, they thought — so they delayed voting on the proposed revisions to the tax deferment program until their next selectmen’s meeting April 17, starting at 6:30 p.m. in town hall. The town’s online calendar lists a June 19 meeting.
The proposed changes to senior tax deferment policy were written up by Assessor Al Garzi based on his attendance at several discussions by the selectmen in recent months.
The initial discussions had focused on raising the income limit, which would open the program to more seniors. Garzi told the selectmen in December that there were 47 taxpayers in the program who deferred their taxes each year.
First Selectman Rudy Marconi told fellow selectman that the assessor had reported that the program isn’t growing.
“Al really feels no one has come in and asked for this recently,” he said.
The $55,000 income limit is likely part of the reason.
The total of deferred taxes is about $2 million, according to Garzi.
But that money isn’t lost. It’s eventually collected with interest when the property is sold.
The other change to the deferment program — giving a deceased taxpayer’s estate longer to settle with the town — was added later as a result of feedback that six months could be a pretty short to get an estate settled.
“Six months is pretty aggressive,” Selectman Steve Zemo said.
The broadening of the tax deferment program is one of three ideas the selectmen began discussing after OWLS president John Fisher approached them more than a year ago asking that they do something to relieve the tax burden on senior citizens.
Two other ideas were considered as a result of Fisher’s lobbying. One was to raise the property tax credit available to Ridgefield seniors from its current level of $1,048 a year. The other suggestion was to put a freeze on increases to Ridgefield property taxes after owners turn 75.
The selectmen didn’t go for either of those ideas. Their concern was that the programs would be too expensive — putting too much additional cost onto the town’s other taxpayers.