Portland mayor proposes tax, rent relief program for seniors

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PORTLAND — The City Council Finance Committee will soon begin reviewing a property tax and rent relief proposal introduced last week by Mayor Ethan Strimling.

“We wanted to keep it as simple as possible,” Strimling said June 14 about his proposed Portland Senior Tax Equity Program, which would allow residents 62 and older now getting credits from the state Property Tax Fairness Credit Program to receive rebates of the same amount from the city.

The program would extend to renters and homeowners, using state guidelines for eligibility, and become available in 2019, the mayor said.

The proposed addition to Chapter 2 of the city code was forwarded to the committee at Monday’s Council meeting.

Councilor Nick Mavodones, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the program would be discussed next month. He said he wants the city staff working with the committee to have an opportunity to review the proposal.

Based on 2015 tax data, Strimling said nearly 900 people would have been eligible for an average of $300 in tax relief ($197 for renters), at a cost of $270,000 to the city. The new benefits would be available to residents with incomes from $33,000 to $53,000 and tax assessments or rents that are 6 percent or 40 percent, respectively, of their annual income.

Rebates would be capped at $900 annually.

Strimling said his ambition is to spread the tax relief throughout the city in the future.

“If we can get it into place, I’d be happy with that. If you are a homeowner or a renter, you are getting squeezed,” he said. For now, it will have to apply to residents who are 62 or older, which is allowed under the state law enacted two years ago.

As envisioned, the tax relief program would require applicants to submit proof they are receiving credits from the state. The time frame to apply would be March 15 to May 15 each year and, once verified and processed, the intent is to have city rebates distributed by Sept. 30.

Strimling said he hopes the program would begin following a citywide property revaluation that could be done in fiscal year 2019. City Manager Jon Jennings has already budgeted more than $26,000 in the fiscal year 2018 budget in anticipation of the revaluation.

If councilors enact a tax and rent relief measure, the city would join Cumberland, Scarborough and South Portland, which provide some type of assistance to homeowners or renters.

In Scarborough, residents who are 62 or older and have lived in town for at least 10 years can receive refunds if their taxes are 5 percent or more of their adjusted gross incomes of $50,000 or less.

In South Portland, residents who are 70 years or older can receive refunds based on the state credit and are capped at $400. In Cumberland, the property tax assistance program is open to residents 67 and older who have lived in town 10 years.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling said June 14 he would like to expand a proposed tax relief plan for seniors to all city residents.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.