A Natick committee that for 2 years has been studying the possibility of shifting the property tax burden of seniors to others is getting closer to getting an article before Town Meeting that could then trigger a referendum on the matter to be put before all town voters.
The Select Board was pitched this week (about 1 hour and 15 minutes into its meeting) by the Senior Property Tax Exemption Study Committee to sponsor such an article. Three Board members voted “Yes “and 2 abstained on the motion.
Select Board Sue Salamoff, chair of the study committee, said the group will work with town counsel to bring a cleaned up version of its proposed home rule petition to Town Meeting (see the current summary sheet and embedded below). The study committee will debrief on the Select Board meeting on Aug. 17. It had previously gone before the Select Board at least 2 other times.
The impetus for the proposed property tax exemption would give seniors on fixed incomes and limited options to downsize a break on property taxes in light of Natick’s assessed property values skyrocketing with no slowdown in sight. Natick has seen other communities, such as Sudbury and Wayland, take similar action.
The study committee’s current summary sheet describes its mission:
The goal of a senior property tax exemption is to have seniors pay no more than 10% of their income in real estate tax. This is the same goal that underlies the MA Circuit Breaker Credit applied for on an individual’s personal income tax return. If after applying for and receiving the maximum CB credit (currently $1,150 in 2020), a senior’s real estate tax bill still exceeds 10% of qualifying income, Natick seniors would be able to apply for a Natick credit to further reduce the gap.
The town would set aside a pool of money to cover the credits, and it would come from raising others’ taxes.
Salamoff said the committee revisited its work after the last time it met with the Board, and has found that the property value situation “has become substantially worse.” The proposal would put the exemption in place for 3 years and would require a new Town Meeting vote to extend the program.
Challenged by Board member Michael Hickey about whether the program would be feasible, committee members said it would be, based in part on what they’ve seen from other communities. Though committee member Patricia Sciarra did say it was difficult to figure out how many people would actually use such a program.
Sciarra noted that other options are already available for seniors. This includes a way to defer property taxes by taking out loans based on their home equity.
Natick lists a series of tax relief options, including the circuit breaker and work-off program, on its town website.
Despite such options, Board member Paul Joseph said “We’ve got an. affordability challenge in Natick,” and that coming up with new ways to address the situation is a Board obligation.
One big question is whether those who would have more of the tax burden shifted to them, even as Natick faces the prospect of tax overrides in coming years, will bite. Board Chair Karen Adelman-Foster, who abstained on vote, said she feels uncomfortable making such tax exceptions on an ad hoc basis rather than as part of a longer-term financial plan.