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CUMBERLAND — Some residents 67 and older can expect Christmas to come a bit early next year, in the form of a new property tax assistance program.
The Town Council on Dec. 14 unanimously approved the launch of a town-based tax-assistance program.
A poll of residents by the town’s Aging in Place Committee showed that “overwhelmingly, the No. 1 response by seniors was … property tax relief,” Town Manager Bill Shane said in an interview Dec. 16.
Cumberland has high property values, a strong school system, and a high level of services, “and all of that combined, with a small population, means a typically high property tax rate,” Shane said.
As a result, surplus funds from the budget for fiscal 2016, which concludes June 30, 2016,will be put toward tax relief for seniors who qualify.
A qualifying household must have a median family income of less than 90 percent of the then-current U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Metropolitan Area Median Family Income. The Metro Portland area covers Biddeford north to Brunswick.
The qualifying threshold is now an income under about $69,000. Senior homeowners with an income of $46,259 or less could receive up to $750 in assistance.
“The more you earn, the less of a rebate,” Shane said.
The household’s property taxes must also be greater than 4 percent of the owner’s income, and one of the residents must be at least 67 years old and have lived in town at least 10 years, Shane said. The home must also be the applicant’s primary residence.
“We expect that that will cover … somewhere between 100 or 200 families in the community,” he said.
Prior to the state’s abolition two years ago of its Circuit Breaker program, which was open to all qualifying taxpayers, about $100,000 was refunded to Cumberland seniors who needed the help, Shane said. Through that program’s replacement, the Property Tax Fairness Credit, only about $10,000 went to local seniors, he added.
“That pretty much wiped out the majority of people in Cumberland who qualified,” he said, adding that the income limit was a little more than $40,000, and “most of our seniors didn’t qualify for much there.”
That should change next summer, though, with implementation of Cumberland’s program. The town has a list of about 100 previous recipients, to whom application packets will be sent around July. Town staff and volunteers will set appointments to help applicants through the process.
Applications will be due Aug. 1, 2016. The town will seek proof of income and residency from applicants.
Shane hopes to see about $75,000 reimbursed to seniors initially in that program, with a goal of once again reaching $100,000.
“We’re trying to keep our seniors here that have built this community, and have made it what it is today,” he said. “… If we can do that through some property tax relief … I think that will start making a difference.”
Cumberland is launching a new property tax relief program for seniors next year.