Homeowners are learning the results of the recent reassessment of home values and the impact on individual property taxes. Taxation is the purview of the state legislature, including what tax relief measures municipalities can adapt.

The following tax relief programs are available to homeowners:

1. Homestead Exemption. This program provides a measure of property tax relief for certain individuals that have owned a homestead property in Maine for at least 12 months and make the property they occupy on April 1 their permanent residence. Qualifying property owners receive an exemption of $25,000. FMI: http://www2.maine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/property-tax-relief-programs/property-tax-exemptions.

2. Veterans Exemption. A veteran who served during a recognized war period and is 62 years or older; or, is receiving 100 percent disability as a veteran; or, became 100 percent disabled while serving, is eligible for a $6,000 exemption. FMI: http://wwwmaine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/property-tax-relief-programs/property-tax-exemptions.

3. Paraplegic Veteran Exemption. A veteran who received a federal grant for a specially adapted housing unit may receive a $50,000 exemption. FMI: http://www2.maine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/property-tax-relief-programs/property-tax-exemptions.

4. Blind Exemption. An individual who is determined to be legally blind may receive a $4,000 exemption. FMI: http://www2.maine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/property-tax-relief-programs/property-tax-exemptions.

5. Renewable Energy Investment Exemption. This program exempts renewable energy equipment, such as solar panels, from property tax (as of April 1, 2020). Taxpayers must apply for the credit by April 1 of the first year the exemption is requested. FMI: http://www2.maine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/property-tax-relief-programs/property-tax-exemptions.

6. Property Tax Fairness Credit. Eligible Maine taxpayers may receive a portion of the property tax or rent paid during the tax year on the Maine individual income tax return whether they owe Maine income tax or not. If the credit exceeds the amount of their individual income tax due for the tax year, the excess amount of credit will be refunded to them. FMI: http://www2.maine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/income-tax-credits/property-tax-fairness-credit.

7. Tree Growth. This program provides a benefit for owners of at least 10 acres of forested land used for commercial harvesting. A forest management and harvest plan must be prepared and a sworn statement to that effect submitted with the application. Applications must include a map of the parcel indicating the forest type breakdown as well as all other areas to be excluded from the tree growth program. Properties are valued at their current use, rather than at market value. FMI: http://www2.maine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/property-tax-relief-programs/land-use-programs.

8. Farmland. In the Farmland program, the property owner is required to have at least five contiguous acres in their parcel of land. The land must be used for farming, agriculture or horticulture and can include woodland and wasteland. Additionally, the parcel must contribute at least $2,000 gross income from farming activities each year. Properties are valued at their current use, rather than at market value. FMI: http://www2.maine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/property-tax-relief-programs/land-use-programs.

9. Open Space. The parcel must be preserved or restricted in use to provide a public benefit. Benefits recognized include public recreation, scenic resources, game management, and wildlife habitat. The municipal assessor is responsible for determining the value placed on open space land. In the determination of that value, the assessor must consider the sale price that a particular open space parcel would command in the open market if it were to remain in the particular category or categories of open space land for which it qualifies. FMI: http://www2.maine.gov/revenue/taxes/tax-relief-credits-programs/property-tax-relief-programs/land-use-programs.

10. Hardship Abatements. By law, “[t]he municipal officers…may, on their own knowledge or on written application, make such abatements as they believe reasonable on the real and personal taxes on the primary residence of any person who, by reason of hardship or poverty, is in their judgment unable to contribute to the public charges.” FMI: https://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/36/title36sec841.html#:~:text=The%20municipal%20officers%2C%20or%20the,by%20reason%20of%20hardship%20or.

11. Senior Property Tax Relief Program. This program allows municipalities to enact an ordinance to provide benefits to resident homeowners. In South Portland, the program is available to seniors age 68-plus and who have also qualified for the State’s Property Tax Fairness Credit. FMI: https://www.southportland.org/departments/finance-department/south-portland-tax-assistance-program/.

The important thing to know is that people should not hesitate to find out what help is available to them. Reach out and ask questions before getting into financial trouble. For more information, call the South Portland Social Service Department (207-767-7617) and/or the Finance Department (207-767-7609).

Susan Henderson is city councilor at-large and a member of Age Friendly South Portland.

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