BRUNSWICK — So far, fewer than 20 people have signed up for the town’s Senior Property Tax Assistance Program, adopted last December to provide tax relief for seniors.

The program is designed to provide financial assistance to Brunswick property taxpayers or renters who are age 70 or older and who qualify for the Maine State Property Tax Fairness Credit in 2018, Julia Henze, town finance director, said in an email.

The town council allocated $70,000 for the fund and has received just under $700 in donations. As it stands, the average tax rebate will be about $600, Henze said. There is still a month left to apply.

According to a 2018 study by Home Instead Senior Care, 68% of seniors wish to continue living in their current homes and remain independent. Of those, 78% said it was an emotional decision — their homes and communities are where they feel happy and comfortable, and staying in place is less expensive than moving. The average value of a home in Brunswick is $198,400, according to US Census data.

Maine is the oldest state in the country, with a median age of 44.3 compared to the national average of 38, and more than 23% of the population is over age 62, according to the 2017 American Community Survey.

Town councilors used cities like Saco, Cumberland, Scarborough, Harpswell and Portland as models when creating the Brunswick program. 

In Brunswick, the percentage of people over 62 is even higher, at 24.9%, with 12% over the age of 74.

Councilor Kathy Wilson has long been an advocate for the quarter of the population nearing retirement age. Many seniors are on a fixed income and will not be able to afford to live in Brunswick if the taxes keep going up, she said during the most recent budget season, adding that even she might not be able to stay in town if she does not continue working. This year taxes will increase by about 4.47%. On a $200,000 home, this would mean a property tax bill of about $3,954.

While supportive of the ordinance when it came before the council in December, some questioned the age restriction, as many of the other towns require applicants only be 65 years or older.

Councilor Jane Millett, however, said since the credits are prorated by the number of people and “resources are finite” they wanted to be conservative.

To qualify, a person needs to be at least 70 years old and have lived in a Brunswick home for at least 10 years and be up to date on current property taxes. Applicants will need to have been approved for the state Property Tax Fairness Credit Program, which allows for a rebate of up to $600 for single individuals with a maximum income of $33,333. Head of household can claim two or fewer exemptions making $43,333, or more than two exemptions making no more $53,333. In 2016, 236 people were granted credits, with an average value of $303 and a total credit value of $71,508.

Additionally, the Brunswick tax assistance program states that “no applicant would be eligible for assistance at an amount greater than the amount of tax remaining after applying the credit received under that State’s Property Tax Fairness Credit Program.”

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