Braintree officials have chosen to reduce property tax bills for struggling seniors even further, after determining that the present tax credit was too small.
Currently, the state pays for a tax credit of $500 a year for seniors whose annual income is less than $16,000 (single resident) or $19,000 (married).
At their meeting Tuesday, town councilors approved an amendment to the exemption law, increasing the tax credit for struggling seniors to $750 for fiscal 2013, with a plan to increase it to $1,000 for fiscal 2014, which begins next July 1.
Councilors also altered the qualifications for the exemption, increasing the annual income cutoff to $20,000 for a single person, and to $30,000 for a married couple.
With an average single-family tax bill of $3,961 for fiscal 2013 – which includes an $80 increase from last year – the change should help, councilors said.
“I thought, we need to do better,” said Councilor Dan Clifford, who initiated the change. “So I did a detailed study on the other 165 municipalities that provide this option....Having gone through it and recognizing that we were financially able to do this, I sat with the mayor, we went through the numbers, and he concurred that this was a good thing for Braintree seniors, the most needy in the town.”
According to Clifford, the tax exemption size relative to the average property tax bill has steadily decreased since it was enacted in 1982.
In 1982, the $500 exemption was 49 percent of an average bill of $1,027 on a single-family home. In 1990, the exemption was 33 percent of the average bill, and that number had fallen to 17 percent in 2004, and 13.5 percent in 2012.
The size of the credit was not in the spirit of the law, Clifford said, and a change was severely necessary.
“The original intent was to provide substantial tax relief to seniors…knowing you don’t want to push them out of their home because they can't pay their tax bill,” Clifford said. “What we’ve done now is a good thing, and now it’s 26 percent. We’re going to grow it from 13 percent to 26 percent, but that’s a far cry from 49 percent.”
Clifford plans to petition the state, with help from local representatives, to increase the state’s contribution to that law, making it easier for municipalities to give more back to severely struggling seniors.
In the meantime, the new measure will allow more Braintree families to apply for the exemption, and increase the help available.
The measure will most likely cost the town $71,000, a number well within the town’s means, Clifford said.
He added that the number of applicants will decline – as it always has – as those eligible either move out of town or pass away.
“Were else can you provide support to people in their most needy times and know that cost is going to diminish?” Clifford said.
Council President Chuck Kokoros applauded Clifford for his efforts, which come on the heels of another tax exemption authored by Clifford for active-duty servicemen and women.
“When a man gets elected to office and creates something as amazing as the soiders’ relief bill, and gets it passed, and now it's something many communities can accept, that accomplishment is amazing. But for him to continue to come up with ideas that help those who are in need is amazing,” Kokoros said.
Braintree also chose to keep the current tax split between commercial and residential businesses, which will help keep residential taxes lower in favor of higher commercial ones.
Though the higher tax burden on businesses could be problematic, Kokoros said the town’s business community continues to grow, showing that the measure is still worthwhile.