Senior citizen homeowners in the largest city in western Massachusetts may get some help paying their property tax bills.
The Springfield City Council is poised to give initial approval tonight to a senior citizen property tax work-off program.
"What we are going to be discussing is a piece of legislation that would allow them to work-off up to $1,000 for 20 senior citizens in the city of Springfield, said City Councilor Orlando Ramos, the sponsor of the proposed ordinance that would allow eligible seniors to receive a $1,000 exemption on their property tax bill in exchange for doing a few hours of work a week for the city.
"With the amount of economic development that we have happening in the city and the new revenue that we are creating in the city, it is about time that we give the taxpayers a tax break," said Ramos.
To qualify, a senior citizen homeowner’s income and assets could not exceed certain limits and they would have to be able to perform clerical tasks, or other light duty, work for municipal agencies or the Springfield Public Schools.
" They would have to be 60 years of age, or older, and obviously homeowners and living in the house their tax bill is for," added Ramos.
To earn the exemption, a person would need to work 75 hours at the current state minimum wage of $12.50.
If the program is approved by the City Council, there is likely to be a lot of interest from senior citizen homeowners, according to Sandy Frederico, director of the city’s Office of Elder Affairs.
"There has been discussion of a lottery system where all the applications come and then we draw 20 to see if they qualify," said Frederico.
There will be a cost to the city for the program. The taxes that are exempted will be deducted from a special reserve account, according to Richard Allen, chairman of the Springfield Board of Assessors.
"$20,000 is a reasonable amount," said Allen. "I would be concerned about the overlay account absorbing large numbers because we are pretty vigilant about the overlay account because any money that goes in there is not going into services and personnel to provide services."
Some seniors already qualify for property tax exemptions under state law. Homeowners age 70 and older can get either $174 or $500 taken off their annual tax bill depending on their incomes and assets. Veterans and homeowners who are legally blind can also get property tax exemptions under state laws.
" We are generally totaling about $600,000 - $700,000 annually in funds from the overlay (account) devoted to covering those exemptons," said Allen.
There are currently about 1,200 households in Springfield that receive a property tax exemptions, according to Allen.
Tax work-off programs for seniors of the kind being considering in Springfield are not unique in Massachusetts. Dozens of municipalities offer it including in western Massachusetts the cities of Holyoke and Northampton.