The Westbrook City Council has approved a program that will refund up to $500 in local property taxes to qualifying seniors as early as this fall.

Residents 70 or older who participate in the Maine Property Tax Fairness Credit program and have lived in the city for at least 10 years are eligible to apply for the refund. Applications, available at City Hall or online at westbrookmaine.com/166/Tax, are due Sept. 1. The refund will be based on the individual’s prior year tax bill and income.

Westbrook is one of a growing number of Maine cities and towns providing property tax relief to seniors. Portland adopted a similar program in 2017 and South Portland has had one since 2012.

Decisions on whether applicants qualify will be made by the end of September, tax collector Dena Lebeda said, and checks should be sent to recipients in early October.

Based on the anticipated number of eligible residents, $50,000 has been set aside for the refunds.

City Councilor Mike Foley said at a May 6 meeting that he looks forward “to seeing this program enacted to help our seniors make ends meet.”

A senior property tax relief program has been in the works in Westbrook for a decade and implementing it was one of Mayor Mike Sanphy’s goals for the upcoming fiscal year.

The plan approved last Monday is similar to those in other communities, although the age requirement is higher.

In Gorham, a resident must be 65 and have lived in town for five years to receive up to a $500 refund. In Scarborough, residents 62 and older can receive up to $600 if they have lived in town for 10 years. Portland’s program provides up to $900 for seniors 62 and older. In Windham, qualifying seniors must be 65 and have lived in the town for a decade before they can receive up to $500 in tax relief.

“I do like this program. I do like how other communities are running (theirs) and running it fine and I am happy to jump in now,” Councilor Victor Chau said at the May 6 meeting.

Council President Gary Rairdon said $500 may not seem like a lot, but it could make it easier for seniors to purchase basic necessities such as food or medicine.

“Any way we can help the seniors in our community is a great win,” he said.

“This program is well-timed and serves a population of our community that is in need and needs some help,” Councilor Brendan Rielly said at the meeting.

Rielly also said there is another group in Westbrook that needs help with its tax bills: residents with minor children. He said he would like to see a similar program set up for them and asked his colleagues to forward that request to the Finance Committee.

“Not only in this city, but in the state and country, we have a significant and devastating problem with childhood poverty. A program such as this that could provide a cash reimbursement to those individuals with children living in our community, that could help put food on the table, clothes on their backs, would be an important second step,” Rielly said.

At last week’s meeting, councilors discussed Rielly’s suggestion, but didn’t move forward with it. Foley said such a program may be needed, but now is not the right time to introduce it.

“We are just venturing down the road of offering a property tax assistance program for seniors. I am not sure we should immediately put on our plate increasing and expanding that program into an area that could be a burden on the municipal budget that we don’t even know of,” Foley said.

Foley said “it would be prudent for us as leaders” to see how the senior citizen property tax assistance program works over the next year and possibly add additional tweaks to the tax assistance program in the future.

 

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