BIDDEFORD — A proposal that would return some property tax or rental costs to people 70 and older who have lived in Biddeford for at least 10 years will undergo additional scrutiny before the City Council decides whether to approve the plan.

Councilors at an early September workshop mulled the question of a tax and rent program for households earning up to $47,808 — 90 percent of the area median income — along with the age and residency requirement.

Biddeford had considered a tax program in 2019 and 2020, but at that time, administrative costs were deemed to be too high.

Under the two-part proposal, the maximum returned would be $750. The first part would offset the applicant’s property tax increase from the previous year, up to $250. For renters, if the applicant’s rent increased from the previous year, they would be eligible for a credit of 15 percent of the rent increase. The balance of the program, up to $500, is based on income, according to information provided to the council by City Manager James Bennett. Someone earning between $42,500 to $47,808 would receive $100 from that part of the program, someone earning $24,499 and under would receive $500, with varying amounts in between, based on income levels.

Councilors had questions, and some, like Councilor Marc Lessard, suggested possible amendments.

Lessard said if someone had benefitted from the program over several years, that the city should be reimbursed once the individual no longer lived in the home, and pointed out that someone would profit once the property is sold.

“I believe it is only right for the remainder (of taxpayers) paying the full amount,” for the city to be reimbursed, said Lessard.

Councilors wondered how the city would verify 10 years of residency. Tax bills would offer proof for property owners; and the city could check vehicle registrations, voters lists and other means, Bennett said.

Others noted that the proposal did not go through the usual budget process; Bennett is proposing that the estimated $225,000 to fund the program for the first year would come from undesignated surplus.

“I think this proposal answers a lot of concerns from the last time,” said Michael Ready, noting the simplicity of the proposed application process. “Overall, I support the program.” But Ready expressed some concern about the rental portion, noting that some receive subsidized rent.

Councilor Stephen St. Cyr said he would support the initiative if it were state or federally funded, but noted Biddeford would be footing the bill for the program. He said young families, older families with kids in college, and others could also use help. “Our effort would be better spent making it affordable for everybody,” St. Cyr said.

Council President John McCurry asked what happened if applications exceeded the $225,000 proposed to be used for the program. Bennett said he would come back to the council at that juncture.

Councilor Norman Belanger said he believed the council “is rushing it a little bit.”

“I think we might want to look at this for next year,” he said. Belanger said the city budgets $90,000 for social services “and we struggle to get that,” for food banks and other necessities. “Now, we’re looking at $225,000,” he said. “I’m glad we’re willing to spend money for people in need, but I’m not sure people over 70 who have been here for 10 years have a greater need,” than those who use food banks. “I’m not opposed to it conceptually,” Belanger said, “but I’d like at least to vet it a bit more.”

Mayor Alan Casavant noted the council has previously discussed how to help seniors who have been in the community a long time.

“It becomes complicated, when you think about fairness,” he said, in part.

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