A new property tax relief program could help many cash-strapped older Mainers stay in their homes.

But relatively few people know about the program – passed by the Legislature last spring with little fanfare – and state and municipal officials are scrambling to understand how it will work and launch it early next month.

The new law will allow homeowners to freeze their annual tax bills at the previous year’s amount if they are at least 65 years old and have received the Homestead Exemption for the past 10 years.

But while it was pitched as a property tax stabilization program to help keep financially struggling seniors in their homes, it has no means test or income limit to target relief to those who need it.

Under the new law, the state is expected to reimburse municipalities for the difference between frozen and actual property tax bills, which could total as much as $14 million by the fourth year. How much more after that is unclear.

The program takes effect Aug. 8 but doesn’t appear yet on the Maine Revenue Services website. Municipal officials are eager for clarifying information and instructions on how they will be expected to administer the program. They still have not seen the application form that qualifying homeowners will have to fill out each year by Dec. 1.


“Once we understand how this will work, we’ll encourage everyone who is eligible to apply,” said Jim Thomas, city assessor in South Portland and Westbrook.

Despite what the law says about the state reimbursing municipalities, there’s no guarantee the Legislature will fund more than 50 percent that is constitutionally required to cover revenue lost via statutory tax credits and exemptions, said Kate Dufour, spokesperson for the Maine Municipal Association.

“It’s really concerning because there are no limits to how much tax relief will be given or how much municipalities will be responsible for,” Dufour said. “You could be the wealthiest resident of Maine and qualify for this.”

Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, the legislator who introduced the tax stabilization bill, said no income requirements were included because it would be too difficult for municipalities to vet homeowners’ financial eligibility.

Stewart acknowledged that the cost of the program will increase as more people apply and qualify. The law’s fiscal notes projected General Fund costs of $315,000 this fiscal year, $2.6 million in fiscal 2024, $7 million in fiscal 2025 and $14 million the next year. Funding beyond fiscal 2023 will be up to the next Legislature.

“I think this is a better use of money than a lot of other programs that have been funded in recent years,” Stewart said. “I’m more concerned about the people making a choice between paying property taxes and buying groceries or prescriptions.”


The lack of income qualifications surprised Tom Peterson, a retired educator who has lived in his South Portland home for 34 years. He hadn’t heard about L.D. 290, he said, but he’d likely apply as soon as possible.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Peterson said. “Older people will be able to stay in their homes. Many are on fixed incomes, so property taxes can be a burden.”

Kevin Robinson of North Yarmouth likes the new tax relief program, too. He’s an active town resident who has been promoting the program on a community Facebook page. But he wonders how the Legislature and Maine taxpayers are going to pay for it.

“I’ve been trying to make something like this happen for years,” Robinson said. “I’m all for taking care of the people who took care of you. On its face, this is a great program, but how they’re going to pay for it down the road remains to be seen.”

Considered a “sleeper bill” by some, L.D. 290 was expected to die on the table after the Taxation Committee decided it “ought not to pass” in 2021 based on concerns about cost, administration, lack of means testing and other issues, Dufour said.

But it was carried over this year, voted out of the Appropriations Committee, passed by the House and Senate, and became law in May without the governor’s signature. The governor has 10 days to sign or veto a bill. If the Legislature is still in session and the governor has taken neither action, it becomes law.


“We were actually surprised it was enacted,” said Dufour, who’s also a Hallowell city councilor. “Each year there’s a sleeper bill that pops out of nowhere. This year it was L.D. 290. I don’t believe this legislation was given proper study. It places a lot of the burden of implementation on municipalities. The state is going to have to step up.”

Gov. Janet Mills’ office and Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, chair of the Appropriations Committee, didn’t respond to requests to discuss how the law got approved or will be implemented.

Maine Revenue Services is finalizing application and guidance documents for the new tax relief program and anticipates posting them on the state’s website shortly before the law goes into effect Aug. 8, said Sharon Huntley, department spokesperson.

“It’s ultimately up to the municipality how they accept the applications, but we anticipate that process will likely happen in person” rather than online, Huntley said in a written statement.

The law specifies that homeowners must file applications with the assessors in the municipalities where their homesteads are located, Huntley said. The tax relief is tied to the state’s Homestead Exemption program, which gives homeowners who are permanent residents of Maine a $25,000 exemption on their primary dwelling after they have owned it for at least one year.

Homeowners must have received the Homestead Exemption for at least 10 years to qualify for the new tax relief program. Unlike the exemption, however, which stays in place until there is a change in ownership, the new tax relief program requires homeowners to apply annually. Homeowners who apply by Dec. 1 this year and qualify will see their tax bills frozen at this year’s amount in 2023.


“They will continue to pay that tax amount in subsequent years as long as they continue to file an annual application, since each application looks back to the tax billed to them in the prior year,” Huntley said.

If a homeowner in any year fails to file a new application, the bill for that year would revert to the “normal” amount of tax, Huntley said. The homeowner could apply for tax stabilization again the next year, but the property tax would then be frozen at the missed year’s tax level as long as the homeowner continued to file annual applications.

If homeowners move, they will be allowed to transfer their stabilized property tax amount to a new homestead as long as they continue to file annual applications on time, Huntley said. If the home is in a different municipality, the previous municipality will be expected to provide appropriate documentation of the approved stabilized amount.

Jim Thomas, the assessor in South Portland and Westbrook, has already begun to inform residents about the new program. He printed up a one-page handout with basic information from the text of L.D. 290 in case anyone stops by to ask about it. He can’t do more until he knows more.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Thomas said.

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