Karen Eames didn’t know quite what to expect when she signed on to Saco’s program that allows older residents to work off part of their property tax bills.

The retired teacher was impressed by the job options and how nice everybody was. Her chores included painting at City Hall and one of the annexes, and checking in voters for early elections, which she especially enjoyed because of its social nature.

After 102 hours of work, she earned a $750 deduction from her tax bill.

“I really felt I was doing something good,” said Eames, 62. “And it was a real treat when the tax bill came, to have $750 taken off the top.”

She was one of 18 participants in 2009, the first year of the program. This year, the city is expanding the program to allow for 30 senior citizens whose annual income is less than $60,000.

The deadline for applications, which are available through the city assessor’s office, is May 15.

Maine municipalities have such programs because of a state law that allows local governments to create them for residents who are at least 60 years old.

“It was really worthwhile,” said City Assessor Dan Sanborn, who oversees Saco’s program. “It increased the municipal level of service and it made people feel included.”

Saco will hold another “job fair” at City Hall for participants this year. Department heads will describe the kind of work they need done, and the participants will sign up for what they find appealing.

The jobs will include helping with elections, scanning meeting minutes, fact-checking the city’s website and setting up accounting folders for the new fiscal year. About one-third of the slots will be for greeters at Saco’s train station, which otherwise would not be staffed after 5 p.m.

The state law, which took effect in 2008, leaves many of the details up to local governments.

Kittery’s program, for example, is geared toward seniors who face eviction or foreclosure. The rules include a residency requirement of at least five years and a limit on income — no more than 15 percent over the threshold for general assistance.

At their town meeting in March, Belgrade voters passed, without debate, an ordinance to establish a similar program, said Town Manager Dennis Keschl. The first participants will be able to earn their $750 deductions next year.

The timeline calls for town departments to describe the type of work to the selectmen by Jan. 1, residents’ applications to be in by March 1 and work completed by Oct. 15. Tasks may include data input in a new cemetery information management system, or light office cleaning, Keschl said.

In Belgrade, as in Saco, the participants’ property tax bills must be at least 4 percent of their household income — the same threshold as in the Maine Residents Property Tax Program, commonly known as the “circuit breaker.”

Belgrade also has a provision that allows someone else to work for the senior when he or she is unable.

Sanborn, the assessor in Saco, said there’s no guarantee that last year’s participants will be accepted again this year. If there are more applicants that slots, they will be accepted according to need.

The program doesn’t affect the city’s tax rate because it’s covered by surplus created when the tax rate is rounded up from an odd number, Sanborn said.

“It’s not significant to the city,” Sanborn said of the program’s cost, “but it certainly is significant to those people that can have a reduction in their tax bill.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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