BRUNSWICK — Town councilors discussed an ordinance presented by the Finance Committee on Monday that would create a taxpayer-funded program to provide property tax and rent relief for senior citizens.

Applicants would need to be at least 70 years old, have lived in Brunswick for at least 10 years, be up to date on their property taxes, have received the state Homestead Exemption, and have applied for and received a tax credit through the Maine Property Tax Fairness Credit Program.

Brunswick Finance Director Julia Henze said she anticipated that the town would distribute $75,000 to $100,000 per year, based on the number of Brunswick residents who participate in the Maine Property Tax Fairness Credit Program. There were 209 homeowners and 27 renters 65 and older who received a tax credit in 2016. The total rebate was $71,508, state data show.

The Finance Committee has been planning for the rebate program for the past year.

Henze said the proposed program would piggyback on the state’s property tax and rent rebate program. By state law, the town also must offer the rebate to qualified renters. The town intends to match the benefits granted under the tax fairness credit program.

As proposed, the combination of state and town programs would reimburse qualifying residents for all of the property taxes they paid, Henze said.

While the town could accept donations to help fund the program, Henze said it likely would be funded by other Brunswick taxpayers as a line item in the budget.

In a phone interview Monday, Henze said the town doesn’t have any information on how many seniors are paying property taxes in town.

The U.S. Census Bureau put the town’s population at 20,619 in 2017, and residents age 65 and older made up 20 percent of the population. According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine seniors age 75 or older are most likely to live with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Like the state’s tax fairness credit program, the town’s rebate program would be for those with a maximum income of $33,333 if single, $43,333 for a two-person family and $53,333 for a family of three or more. For renters to qualify, they must have paid rent totaling more than 40 percent of their total income.

The program wouldn’t be in place until 2019 if the council moves forward with it.

Councilor and Finance Committee member Jane Millett said the committee didn’t want to hand out money to people who aren’t taking advantage of other programs for which they could be eligible. Many don’t know anything about or take advantage of the Homestead Exemption, for example, she said.

Councilor Steve Walker applauded the Finance Committee’s work Monday. He noted that nearly twice as many people under 65 had applied to the state tax fairness credit program compared with those over 65. Given the lack of affordable housing and rentals in Brunswick, he asked if the committee had considered opening the program in the future to people younger than 65 “so we can attract families that are being priced out of this town.”

Councilor and Finance Committee member Alison Harris said the committee discussed this at length.

“We wanted to go small, and if it’s successful, expand the program if we could, rather than start with a very grand program that we had to cut back,” she said. “We really did struggle with balancing two costs of the program. One is the actual rebate cash that we would have to put out unless we could raise a lot of money through donations, and the other is, of course, the administrative burden it would place on staff.

“At the same time,” she continued, “we were very mindful of the issue of lack of affordable housing. We hear it all the time from people who appear before us – the struggle that people are having paying their taxes – and wanted to provide some genuine relief. It was really a balancing act.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: