Proposed changes to ordinance under further review

PROSPECT — Officials are going to take another look at proposed changes to a local tax credit ordinance for senior citizens and totally disabled homeowners.

The Town Council unanimously voted to table action, for further review, on amending the ordinance Tuesday night following a public hearing that drew about 100 people, nearly all seniors, to Town Hall.

The current ordinance was adopted in 2004. Under the current language, residents that are at least 65 years old or receive permanent total disability benefits under Social Security, own property in town and meet income requirements would be able to apply for a local property tax credit of up to $200.

The credit is prorated based on how long a resident has lived in town. Eligible residents who have lived in town for one to five years receive 50 percent of the credit, or $100. The credit increases to 75 percent, or $150, for those who have lived in town for six to 10 years. Eligible residents that have lived in town for more than 10 years receive the full $200.

The council’s ordinance subcommittee has spent the better part of the past year reviewing the ordinance and has proposed changes that would increase the local tax credit to up to $400.

The proposed amendment would also change the residency requirements. Residents who have lived in Prospect for one to five years would receive 25 percent of the credit, or $100. Those who have lived in town six to 10 years would receive 50 percent, or $200. Residents who have lived in town 11 to 20 years would receive 75 percent, or $300, and residents who have lived in Prospect for 21 years or more would be eligible for the full amount.

The income limits would be raised, as well.

Currently, the ordinance uses the income limits for the state tax relief program, which are currently $35,200 a year for a single person and $42,900 for a married couple. The proposed amended ordinance would use 1.5 times the state’s limits.

“The whole main thing that we’re trying to do is to help the seniors, the elderly, the disabled; try to help them out, give them a little more of a refund on their taxes to try to keep them in town,” said council member Jeffrey Slapikas, who chairs the ordinance subcommittee.

The vast majority of those who addressed the council Tuesday felt the changes don’t do enough and are unfair to people who recently moved into town.

Slapikas said the subcommittee wanted to ensure residents received at least the same or a higher credit under the program when it looked at making the changes. He added the subcommittee used caution when setting the highest amount a person could receive at $400 because officials didn’t have a definitive answer as to how the changes would financially impact the town.

Mayor Robert Chatfield said the town gave about $36,000 in credits in the budget. However, more people will qualify if the new income limits go into effect.

Resident Frank Conlon gave a petition to the council that requested the income limit should be the median income of all Prospect residents, and eligible residents should receive the full benefit after one year.

The prorated share of the credit based on residency was a major sticking point for many residents in attendance.

“This is a senior relief program, not a residency relief program. … Whether you’re here one year or whether you’re here 20 years you should qualify for that full amount,” resident Joseph Bongiovanni said.

Residents also pointed to the local tax credit program in Beacon Falls. In Beacon Falls, eligible residents can receive a $500 tax credit after one year in town and the income limits are $75,000 and $150,000 for a single person and a married couple, respectively.

Many argued Prospect should follow Beacon Falls’ model.

“We see the Beacon Falls template as a template that the town should take very seriously,” Bongiovanni said. “I don’t think it’s going to bankrupt the town to follow that template and give us something significant versus token.”