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Tax relief program for elderly expanded in Scarborough

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Tax relief program for elderly expanded in Scarborough

SCARBOROUGH — Councilor Judy Roy has made it her pet project to make sure the town's elderly residents know they are as important as the younger residents.

"We do so much for the young people in Scarborough, it's good to do something for the elderly population as well," Roy said.

This spring, the Town Council approved an increase in funding to the property tax assistance program, which is modeled after the state "circuit-breaker" program.

The programs provide property tax assistance and rent refunds to seniors who meet tax and income levels set by the state program. Scarborough residents over the age of 65 who have lived in the town for more than 10 years qualify for supplemental cash refunds through the town.

Last year, Scarborough paid $119,000 in tax refunds to seniors. This year, the council increased the amount available from $125,000 to $140,000.

"It's not a handout. It's something elders deserve. It's something that's there for them," Roy said.

To qualify for the state program this year, a single person's household income in 2008 must have been less than $61,400; a person with a spouse or dependent income must have earned less than $81,850; and a person's 2008 property tax had to be more than 4 percent of that year's income. For renters, the amount paid out for rent must have been more than 20 percent of 2008 household income.

Roy said when the state circuit-breaker program was introduced, many people didn't apply for it even though they qualified.

"That generation said 'I don't take charity,'" she said. "It isn't charity. It's just to help them out."

Roy, 67, said she may qualify for the program in the future. She spoke candidly about her experiences with the increasing costs of medications and the small payouts for social security.

"I get (a) Maine state retirement, so I don't have to worry as much as some older people do," she said.

However, Roy said she knows first-hand how expensive even the most common medications can be, rattling off a list of $500 prescriptions she picks up every other month.

"Some (elderly people) try to save money by not taking all their medications, which ends up costing us more money because they end up in the hospital or in long-term care," she said.

She said she hopes Scarborough's circuit-breaker program will help keep elderly people from having to make those kinds of choices.

Roy also said she hopes these kinds of ordinances make the older population feel welcome in Scarborough.

"It can bring so many people to the community," she said. "Then their friends and family visit. Look at all the people (retirement communities) draw to the local businesses."

More information and the application forms for the state program are available at www.maine.gov/revenue/forms/homepage.html. A copy of the full Scarborough property tax assistance ordinance is available on the town's website, as is the application form. The same forms can also be picked up at the tax assessor's office at Town Hall.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net