Updated 3 a.m., information from minutes
NORWALK, Conn. – It’s worth taking a look at, Norwalk council members say – maybe there is a way to ease the burden on Norwalk’s oldest taxpayers.
A discussion on senior tax relief is on the agenda for Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting.
“Cities are often judged by how they treat their youngest and oldest residents; thus, the need to adequately fund education and to minimize the burden borne by our senior residents. I think it’s important to do a comprehensive review of the tax relief program periodically, but especially on the heels of a revaluation,” said Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) in an email.
Article VII of the city’s codebook describes the tax deferral program for seniors and disabled homeowners and is dated April 9, 2002. It specifies a maximum $2,500 tax deferral, which becomes a lien against the property. Interest is charged to the lien based on the interest the city is paying on its bonds.
Kimmel said it should be reviewed every few years to see if adjustments are needed.
“We need to review the income eligibility requirements and the amount of the property tax reductions. A variety of factors need to be discussed; for instance, the overall economic situation, any changes in the state senior tax relief program, and what the city might be able to afford. The process of changing the program, if I remember correctly, is not simple, and may require action from both the ordinance committee of the council, as well as the BET. It is too late in the year for us to have an impact on the 14-15 operating budget, but there is some possibility that we will change the program in time for the 15-16 budget,” he wrote.
Kimmel put it on the agenda in response to comments made at the last meeting by Councilman David Watts, according to meeting minutes. Watts said he was tired of seniors talking about having to leave because of the high property taxes, the minutes say. Finance Director Thomas Hamilton said the formula was tweaked three years ago by increasing the income limits and the benefits by about $200, the minutes say. Tax Assessor Michael Stewart said there were about 1,200 to 1,300 residents currently in the program, according to the minutes.
The current tax referral is a “token,” Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said.
“I would love to see some type of relief for our seniors, but it has to be meaningful. I don’t know what that would do with the overall picture,” Petrini said.
He would like to see a demographic breakdown for Norwalk, he said.
Petrini said he has a soft spot for seniors, as both his parents, who are in their 80’s, continue to live in Norwalk, where they were born. His mother-in-law is the same age, and has lived here for more than 30 years.
“I know how hard it is for them to make ends meet,” he said. “But I would like to see just what the burden could be on the backs of everybody else. I haven’t seen any of those numbers yet. I mean, if it’s something that could be palatable I would go for it, but if it’s going to create an undue burden on the younger families that are facing so much pressure from everywhere, I would have to take that into consideration, how that would play out for everyone.”
His late uncle lived in Wilton, he said. The town froze taxes for seniors at a certain age, he said. When his uncle passed away he inherited the house, and saw the tax bill go from the $4,000 range to almost $7,000, he said.
“Can we do something like that here? I don’t know. Not until we find out what exactly what picture we are talking about,” he said. “Is there going to be a tax increase? How much it’s going to be or maybe none at all. I don’t know. It seems likely that they’re might be an increase, but I’ve also heard … the conveyance revenues and the building department revenues might help to offset some of this, so I don’t know what some of those numbers are.”
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