The filing date to apply for senior property tax relief starts on February 1. I urge all seniors to familiarize themselves with this program.
A recent survey by New Fairfield’s Commission on the Aging drew 536 responses from 2900 surveys mailed. It documented that among those responding, 51 percent had a yearly income below $48,000, with an additional 16% below $72,000. That means that over half the respondents qualify for some sort of property tax relief for senior owners. Yet, according to the same survey, 34% did not know these tax relief programs exist. My conclusion is that many seniors who are eligible for property tax relief may not have taken advantage of our current programs.
New Fairfield has two tax relief programs for seniors – an abatement program and a deferral program. The abatement program is aimed at seniors whose 2019 income was under $49,200 unmarried or $59,700 married and provided a benefit of $1743 this year. Under a 2015 amendment to our tax code, this benefit is raised yearly by the percentage increase in the mill rate. You must be 65 or older by December 31, 2019 or 100% disabled and be a legal resident of New Fairfield and own the property in question as of October 1, 2019 to be eligible for the abatement program.
Under the deferral program, your taxes up to 50% of the real estate taxes owed, may be deferred, with a lien placed on the property for the amount deferred with 6% simple interest due upon death or conveyance of the property. You must be 65 years old (60 years old for a surviving spouse) or totally disabled and be a taxpayer in New Fairfield for at least one full calendar year ending December 31 to be eligible for this program. The senior must pay 25 percent of taxes owed, regardless of the benefit.
There are additional details and requirements for both of these programs. The Tax Assessor’s office in Town Hall will be able the help you understand these programs. You must file with the Tax Assessors office between February 1 and May 15 in order to be eligible. Last year, New Fairfield abated $465,300 in taxes for seniors. No one applied to defer their taxes in 2018.
The State also has a program that provides property tax relief to seniors and totally disabled. The amount abated under this program is much less than what the Town provides and is based on a sliding scale of yearly income ranging from $18,600 per year with a cap of $45,100. This abatement program is in addition to the New Fairfield abatement, and while it is a State program, it is paid out of Town funds.
New Fairfield also provides a tax exemption of $2,000 to legally blind residents. Additionally, local veterans can take up to $10,000 off their assessed property values. Filing for these exemptions starts on October 1. As with the senior tax relief programs, check with the Tax Assessors office for further information.
Seniors comprise almost 19% of New Fairfield’s population, according to 2014 data. With the passage of the referendum this past fall to build new schools and the anticipated tax increase that will go along with that, concern has been expressed about the impact of increased taxes on our seniors. As a result, we have done a quick review of the approaches used in other towns in the area, focusing on the abatement approach. This review indicates that New Fairfield’s approach and income limits for participation are on par with other area towns – some towns are above our income limits and some are below, but not by much. Other towns are also reviewing their senior tax relief programs. Ridgefield, for example, decided early last year not to raise its minimum income amount for abatement (which is well below New Fairfield’s) or to pursue a tax freeze approach that has been advocated by some Seniors, because of the impact these measures would have on their town budget. Instead, they agreed to raise the income limit for participating in their deferment program, allowing more seniors to participate in that program.
The Board of Selectmen will work together with the Board of Finance, which has the responsibility under state statute to make decisions on senior tax relief programs, to monitor the impact of coming tax increases on seniors and do the balancing that will be required to make the right decision for seniors and all New Fairfield residents.
Julie Blick, who administers the senior tax relief program for the Town of New Fairfield, and I will be available during my Senior Center Listening Hours on Tuesday, February 25 from 11:45-12:45 to answer any questions you may have about these programs.