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The Cheshire Town Council voted unanimously last week to extend the elderly tax freeze and tax credit programs for senior citizens.
The Council extended the programs for another year at its Feb. 8 meeting, but the income limits and credit amounts were not adjusted. The only change to the programs was the “sunset” date, or the date in which the programs will expire.
The Council historically extends the programs on a year-to-year basis in early February. More than 500 seniors in Cheshire are taking advantage of the programs to the tune of more than $520,000 in relief during the last fiscal year.
"This is probably the best program in the state of Connecticut," explained Town Councilor David Schrumm. "A lot more seniors are taking advantage of it."
Over the last two years, the number of participants enrolled in the elderly tax relief programs grew from 493 to 522. With an increase of 29 participants, the amount of tax relief also increased, from $485,000 to $520,00. According to Town Manager Michael Milone, the expectation for the coming year is the program will continue to grow, with more seniors receiving a tax benefit of approximately $575,000.
"You can see that it's costing the Town additional dollars each year without any changes or any more generosity," Milone said. "The level of eligibility has grown. We want to keep our seniors here and you can't put a price tag on that."
The tax relief programs began in 1998 with 391 participants and has grown every year since. The income limits and eligibility has changed over the years, while the state's program has remained virtually untouched over the last decade. Milone said that, initially, the program cost more money each year because the credits kept changing, but now it's a sign of an aging population with more seniors eligible for the program. While some may argue it'd be important to receive the half-million dollars in tax revenue annually, Milone said the elderly tax relief program was "good public policy."
"You can quantify the benefit, but it's the reasonable and important thing to do," he said.
Aside from the tax freeze program, there is also the tax credit program available to seniors. A full breakdown of the credits can be found online or in the Tax Assessor's office but, for example, a married couple making between $16,101 and $21,700 can be entitled to a $1,996 tax credit. A single person with that same income range would be eligible for a $1,365 tax credit.
"This is the most generous (program) of it's kind in the state," Milone insisted. "It's frustrating for us since the state has had the program for many years but, since 1991, hasn't changed the credits. They have changed the income levels, but not the credit levels."
Cheshire has continued to increase the credits "year after year," Milone said, despite the state's reluctance to alter the program. Another part of the program that is unique to Cheshire is the ability for seniors to cash in their stocks or CDs without penalty for things such as medical hardship. Most programs count that as income that could, in some cases, put a senior above the income limit. However, in Cheshire, this is considered a "one time exception incident," Milone stated.
"That provision is pretty unusual and it speaks to the fact the the Town Council designed it as generous and responsive as possible," he said.
Applications for tax credits for Town of Cheshire homeowners over 65 years of age and those totally disabled will be taken at the Assessor’s Office in the Cheshire Town Hall from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. between now and May 14.
For more information, call (203) 271-6620 or visit, http://www.cheshirect.org/assessor/.