Guilford to remedy tax relief shortfall

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
July 25, 2008

GUILFORD — Town officials say they have found a solution to the funding shortfall that took benefits away from some Elderly Tax Relief Program participants this year.

After meeting Tuesday night, members of the Elderly Tax Stabilization Committee are recommending that the town amend the ordinance that governs the program to allow an increase in the maximum amount of money available.

For this fiscal year, the amount of taxes frozen in the program — which had a cap of about $360,000 — overran the funding by more than $300,000. That led the town to remove all benefits for about 215 eligible participants.

William Bloss, committee vice chairman, said that the proposed change will allow the Board of Finance to increase the cap and restore full benefits for everyone affected by the funding issues.

“Problem solved,” Bloss said. “It will be remedied for the current tax year, so the bottom line is that everybody who qualified is going to get their relief.”

For most people — those who have paid or plan to pay half of their tax bill by the end of the month — the relief will come in the form of a reduced bill for the second half of the year. For anyone who has paid their full tax bill, the town will issue a rebate check, Bloss said.

“It’s not a prorated benefit,” he said. “The full benefit for the entire 2008-09 tax year is going to be reinstituted, it’s just going to be reflected in the second half of the annual payment.”

To implement the solution, the Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen will have to amend the ordinance, First Selectman Carl Balestracci said.

“The selectmen will have to hold a public hearing and then vote to make this law if the Board of Finance recommends it to us, and I’m sure that they will.” Balestracci added he hopes the process can be completed by September.

The ordinance establishing the Elderly Tax Relief Program took effect in 2001. It offers benefits for disabled residents or those over age 65 who own a primary residence in town and meet certain income guidelines based on years of residence. About 675 participants must reapply for the program each year.

Balestracci said that the additional money needed to cover the program this year could come from several sources, including the more than $330,000 settlement received last year from a lawsuit against the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority. He added that once the boards of Finance and Selectmen have voted on the plan, a letter will be sent to program participants explaining the changes.

Meanwhile, Bloss said, the Tax Stabilization Committee will continue meeting to determine how to avoid a similar situation in the future. After falling within funding guidelines for its first years of existence, the Tax Relief Program overran the cap by about $30,000 two years ago. The more than $300,000 shortfall this year was due to revaluation last year, which increased some property values and changed the tax distribution in the town, officials said.

“I think we should just do away with the cap,” Bloss said. “I think that everybody who qualifies should be guaranteed the relief because the foundation of the program is the ability of a senior citizen on a relatively low income to be assured that his or her taxes are going to remain stable. That assurance is at the heart of the program, and that assurance has to be kept under all circumstances, in my opinion.”

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