Portland weighs tax, rent relief for seniors

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PORTLAND — A property tax and rent relief program for city residents 62 and older is scheduled for an Oct. 2 first reading by the City Council.

The Portland Senior Tax Equity Program, known as P-STEP, was first proposed by Mayor Ethan Strimling in June and could provide an average of $300 in annual rebates to eligible households.

The program was forwarded with a unanimous endorsement from the council’s Finance Committee, led by Councilor Nick Mavodones.

“I look forward to discussing this further when we take it up as a full Council in November,” Mavodones said in a Sept. 22 press release.

The first reading of any item is made without public or council comments. A second reading and council vote is preceded by a public hearing. Strimling said Monday he will not attend the Oct. 18 council meeting, so the public hearing and vote will occur Nov. 6.

The program as now proposed would tie eligibility to the state Property Tax Fairness Credit Program, established in 2013. The program provides annual tax credits up to $900.

Residents who qualify for the state program could then apply for the city program, which is expected to begin paying rebates in 2019. Applicants could file on or after March 29 each year, and rebates would be mailed by Sept. 30.

The initial cost of the program is estimated at $250,000, and funding it would have to be part of the city manager’s annual budget. If passed, the ordinance would require City Manager Jon Jennings to set aside the rebate funding in the fiscal year 2019 budget that goes into effect July 1, 2018.

“Our seniors deserve to be able to stay in their homes, and the action Councilors Mavodones, (Justin) Costa and (Pious) Ali took last night is an invaluable step in the right direction,” Strimling said Sept. 22.

Homeowners and renters with adjusted gross incomes of no more than $33,333 for one-person households, $43,333 for two-person households, or $53,333 for three or more in a household are eligible for state credits if paying more than 6 percent of their income on property taxes or 40 percent of income on rent.

The state then credits 50 percent of the amount paid over those thresholds. While there is no minimum age for the state program, the maximum credit for applicants younger than 65 is $600. Those 65 and older can earn credits up to $900.

The city program would match the state credits. Data from 2015 shows such a match would have cost the city more than $270,000 in average rebates of $304 to nearly 900 people.

Of those who would have been eligible based on 2015 tax returns, 140 were renters who received an average state credit of nearly $200. Homeowners would have received state credits averaging almost $325, according to city staff research.

Property tax and rental relief was a City Council goal this year, and Strimling said in June he would like to expand the program eventually to include younger residents.

An expanded program would cost more than $570,000, based on 2015 data, and increase the number of eligible renters to almost 1,400 with an average rebate of almost $220. Rebates averaging about $3701 would have been paid to nearly 730 homeowners.

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

Strimling

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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.