FALMOUTH — Only about 14 percent of those eligible to get help through the town’s new Senior Tax Assistance Program took advantage of it during the 2019 fiscal year.

The program is designed to give older residents a break on their property taxes. But Finance Director Pete McHugh said Falmouth “got quite a low response” during the program’s inaugural year of the program.

He said he hopes word of mouth and more concentrated outreach will lead to greater participation during the current fiscal year.

“In conversations with surrounding towns, I learned that most had a very low response in the first year, but they saw a doubling in the second year,” McHugh told the Town Council July 22.

Only 29 residents applied to the program and the town rebated only around $20,500 of the $75,000 budgeted in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to McHugh. The budget was reduced to $50,000 for fiscal year 2020.

The Senior Tax Assistance Program is available to all residents over the age of 62 who have an annual income of less than $30,000.

One item discussed by the council was whether to raise the income threshold to $40,000.

While McHugh seemed to favor that idea, Councilor Jay Trickett wondered if there were better ways to tweak the program, such as making it more useful to renters and making eligibility reliant on property values instead of annual income.

Councilors said they would wait until after the Oct. 15 deadline for applications to decide if anything further needs to be done to either encourage more participation or change the program, including using undesignated funds to further boost the amount budgeted for available tax rebates.

To get the word out, Councilor Ted Asherman suggested the town could take out ads in local newspapers, while Councilor Janice DeLima suggested providing a flyer or other information to people who pay their tax bills in person at Town Hall.

McHugh admitted the town’s website was not particularly useful in reaching people, and said the most participation came from residents who regularly attend Senior Center programs.

McHugh said of the people who benefited in 2019, most had a tax bill in the $4,000 range and most received the highest rebate amount available, which is $750.

The tax rebate provided is calculated by how much the of household’s income goes into paying the annual property tax bill or rent, he said. For instance, for property owners the calculation is based on half the amount of the bill that exceeds 4 percent of annual income.

The calculation for renters is a little more complicated and, as Trickett noted, it may not be worth the effort, particularly if a low-income senior is in subsidized housing.

In order to be eligible for the tax assistance program, McHugh said, a resident must have been born no later than Oct. 15, 1957, and earn less than $30,000 a year. Proof of age and income is required, as well as proof of property ownership or a rental agreement.

Asherman said he’d like to try raising the income level and wants to see better dissemination of information about the program.

Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn agreed. “This is a really important program,” she said.

This sample calculation provided by Falmouth’s Finance Department shows how older residents could benefit from the town’s new Senior Tax Assistance Program. Contributed

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