Mayor Ethan Strimling unveiled a plan Wednesday to provide property tax relief or rent relief to nearly 900 low-income seniors in Portland.

The Portland Senior Tax Equity Program, or P-STEP, would provide tax rebates to residents 62 and older who already qualify for the State of Maine Property Tax Fairness Program, which provides similar rebates at the state level, according to information released by the mayor’s office. P-STEP would apply to property owners and renters, and would provide a dollar-for-dollar match of the state benefit. It is modeled on several similar programs in Maine.

“I’ve heard from a lot of councilors that trying to provide property tax relief is a priority,” Strimling said during a meeting with the media at City Hall. “For me this is a priority to make sure that seniors on fixed incomes are able to remain in their homes. A lot of these seniors helped build this city and we need to make sure we can show our appreciation.”

Portland previously attempted to establish a property tax relief program in 2003, but it was deemed unconstitutional by the courts because there was no state law allowing it. The Legislature has since passed enabling legislation.

To qualify, the maximum adjusted gross income would have to be between $33,333 to $53,000, depending on the size of the household. And property taxes paid must be more than 6 percent of the household income, while rents must exceed 40 percent of household income.

Individual homeowners or renters between 62 and 65 could receive a rebate of up to $600 from the city, while those over 65 could receive up to $900. Those maximum amounts match what is available under the state program.

The mayor’s office estimates the average benefit to qualified Portland seniors would be $304 – $197 per renter and $324 per household.

If 90 percent of the 889 seniors who received the state benefit in 2015 apply for and receive the city benefit, the mayor’s office estimates that the program would cost about $250,000 a year. The proposal does not indicate how it would be paid for – that task would be left to the city manager.

Strimling called for a targeted tax relief program in his annual State of the City address and the council made developing the program a goal for this year. The proposal would have to be approved by the City Council, which is expected to refer the proposal to its Finance Committee on Monday for further review.

City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, who leads the committee, did not return a request for comment.

Anita Talbot has lived in the Woodford’s neighborhood for more than 40 years. But the 81-year-old, who receives Social Security and works part-time, said she and her husband, Gerald, who was the state’s first black state legislator, are struggling to pay their rising property tax bill.

Anita Talbot was excited to hear about the program, since she said she has been asking city officials for tax relief for years.

“I really need that,” said Talbot, who would also like the city to allow seniors to work in exchange for a reduction in property taxes. “It’s not just about me – other people are struggling, too. Anything that would give tax relief to the elderly would be great, because taxes continue to go up.”

The mayor’s office highlighted the fact that since fiscal 2013, property taxes have increased 15 percent, or $680 for a home assessed at $240,000, while rents have climbed 20 to 40 percent between 2010 and 2015. Meanwhile, Social Security benefits have risen only 5.3 percent since fiscal 2013.

City Manager Jon Jennings suggested in an email that he did not know enough to comment on the proposal, which was drafted in consultation with the Special Assistant to the Mayor Jason Shedlock and City Attorney Danielle West-Chuhta, to comment.

“The mayor has never spoken with me or city staff about his proposal,” Jennings said in an email.

If enacted, P-STEP would take effect in the 2019 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2018. The current proposal would allow seniors to apply for the city credit between March 15 and May 15 of that fiscal year, Strimling said. Applicants would have to give the city permission to contact the state to confirm each individual met the income requirements.

The first checks would be sent to eligible seniors by Sept. 30, 2019, or within 30 days of receiving the necessary information from the state, Strimling said.

“Over time, I would like to see this expanded,” Strimling said. “The goal would be to get this to everyone in the community who needs it.”

According to Maine Revenue Services information provided by the mayor’s office, an additional 2,111 Portland residents below the age of 62 received tax credit under the state program in 2015. If all of those residents became eligible for the city program, It would add as much as $572,000 in costs to the program.

Similar tax relief programs exist in South Portland, Scarborough, Cumberland, Kennebunkport, Berwick, Harpswell, Kittery and York, the mayor’s office said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

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