A subcommittee of Fairfield's Representative Town Meeting proposed changes Monday to Fairfield's Senior Tax Relief Program, an effort they hope helps the retired population stay in town.
The current senior tax relief program is compromised of three options -- a two-tiered tax credit program (applicants file as single or married); a freeze program (which freezes a year-over-year tax increase for up to five years); and a deferral program (same as the freeze program, but there is a payback and lien provision).
The proposed plan -- which will be voted on at a future RTM meeting -- leaves the freeze option virtually untouched, but alters the credit and referral programs. Instead of a two-tiered married/single credit system, eligible seniors will receive a tax credit based on the percentage of taxes due, but the credits will be capped at a certain amount.
Under the proposed plan, the deferral program will be limited to taxpayers 75 and older (the other two options are open to residents 65 and older). A resident can defer up to 50 percent of his or her property tax, and the program includes a payback and lien provision.
Other changes include boosts to the qualifying maximum incomes for each of the programs so more seniors can participate. The eligible income for the credit option would rise from $60,900 to $70,000; for the freeze program, from $49,600 to $50,600; and from $77,800 to $80,000.
RTM member Tom McCarthy, R-8, and chair of the committee said the proposed plan -- especially limiting the deferral program to taxpayers 75 and older and capping the deferral to 50 percent -- could make the senior tax relief program "self-sustaining" in the long run.
Currently, the program is funded by four percent of the town's tax revenues, which equates to about $9 million for the two-year program. Demand for senior tax relief has never reached that $9 million limit, members of the committee said.
But some town representatives were concerned that the proposed changes to the deferral option could enough taxpayers to put the credit system in jeopardy.
"We're significantly changing the options; it opens it up for more people to participate," Ed Bateson, R-3, said. "It's a good thing, but I'm paying for it."
Other members felt that the program -- which, in the town budget, is categorized as a deduction from the revenue section -- want to see it as a line item in the expense portion of the budget to better see the impact on the town's spending.
"We're assuming the town can afford that [$9 million limit]," John Mitola, D-2, said. "That's a huge assumption."
McCarthy said he did not think the program, if updated with the proposed changes, would reach its $9 million limit.
"This is new; it's a more generous program for seniors who say they cannot afford this town," he said. "We don't think it will be a problem, but we just don't know yet."
The RTM will continue its discussion of the proposed tax relief plan at a future meeting.