Changes coming to tax relief programs

NAUGATUCK — The Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted last week to begin phasing out an additional tax relief program for seniors and disabled residents, and extended another program for seniors for a year.

Connecticut offers a tax relief program, called the Circuit Breaker Program, for elderly and disabled residents. According to the state’s Office of Policy and Management, credit can be granted up to $1,250 for married couples and $1,000 for single persons.

The credit amount is calculated by local assessors and applied by local tax collectors to the applicant’s real property tax bill.

During a special meeting May 24, Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess said the borough started to implement the Circuit Breaker Program in 2002, but officials felt it would not be ready in time for that year. So, at the time, the borough adopted an additional local tax relief benefit that would cover 25 percent of what the Circuit Breaker Program was supposed to cover, he explained.

Hess said the program, which was meant to be temporary, has continued for the past 14 years, and eligible residents have received an additional 25 percent credit on top of the Circuit Breaker Program.

“It’s not common practice for towns to have this additional benefit,” Hess said.

The program has a yearly cost of $58,000 to the borough and benefits about 221 residents, according to officials.

The board voted to phase out the program gradually over the next three fiscal years. Starting in the 2016-17 fiscal year, the percentage residents are eligible for will decrease to 20 percent. That will drop to 10 percent in 2017-18 and be phased out completely in 2018-19.

“The thought was, based on both our Democratic and Republican caucus, that whatever we were going to do, we would do gradually. So this seemed to be the easiest way to eliminate it over a three-year period,” Hess said.

Burgesses Laurie Taf Jackson and Carl Herb voted against phasing out the program.

Jackson said she was afraid eliminating the additional benefit would hinder seniors’ ability to remain in the borough.

“The seniors can’t afford to live here now as it is and we are going to tell them we are discontinuing this,” Jackson said. “The seniors that need this to stay in Naugatuck, when they hear this they are going to get upset.”

Hess pointed out seniors are still receiving tax relief under the state’s Circuit Breaker Program.

The board also voted to extend the Elderly Freeze Program, which provides additional local tax relief, for another year.

Borough officials plan to look into ways to improve the program over the year, Hess said.

“There are probably better ways to provide relief to seniors than what we have. Right now what’s happening, for lack of a better term, is not uniform. Some people are getting some significantly larger benefits and some people, who are maybe more deserving of benefits or equally as deserving, are getting far less,” Hess said.

Hess said the borough will explore how to make the program equitable.

“It needs to be fixed. It’s broken. But it needs to be done in an equitable and uniform manner,” Hess said.