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More Northampton seniors taking advantage of tax breaks

— Senior citizens and others taking advantage of property tax breaks offered by the city are saving more money than ever before.

Efforts three years ago to expand tax relief for low-income property owners have resulted in a significant increase in the amount of money the city shaves off tax bills each year, said City Assessor Joan Sarafin.

“I just didn’t realize that many more elderly people were going to qualify” because of the changes, Sarafin told the City Council last month.

Those changes, approved in the wake of passage of a Proposition 2½ override in 2009, increased both the exemption amount to $650, from $500, and the income limits by $5,000 for singles and couples. The income limit for singles is $21,930, while the married limit is $25,895.

Not only did the change provide property tax relief to a new set of seniors 70 and older — and others — who previously did not qualify, but those already in the program saw an expansion in their exemption. In addition to the elderly, other exemptions go to widowers and widows, veterans and blind people.

While the number of property owners qualifying for an exemption has not increased, the amount of the exemptions has. In fiscal 2009, for example, 439 property owners were granted exemptions worth $200,400. By last fiscal year, 428 property owners qualified and saved $256,000.

Sarafin said her office has already granted $260,000 this year, and the figures could rise.

That’s because property owners still have three months to inquire about exemptions for the current fiscal year.

The exemption application is due within 90 days of the January tax bills, she said.

Sarafin said the recession may also be playing a factor, as homeowners who may have overlooked the tax break opportunity in the past are paying more attention now.

“It might be the times, too,” Sarafin said.

Property owners who want to find out if they qualify for an exemption can call the Assess­or’s Office at 587-1200.

•••

Mayor dusts off veto power

For the first time in years, the mayor has vetoed an ordinance amendment adopted by the City Council.

Mayor David J. Narkewicz sent a memo to the council late last month asking members to reconsider an amendment recommended by Ward 3 City Councilor Owen Freeman-Daniels that would delegate authority and control of parking areas reserved for municipal vehicles to the Transportation and Parking Commission.

Freeman-Daniels said he believes it is the first ordinance that a mayor has vetoed in at least a decade, a fact that City Council President William H. Dwight quipped further cements the Ward 3 councilor’s reputation as a “maverick.”

Narkewicz said such a proposal, approved by the council in two December votes, exceeds the purpose and the powers of the commission. In his memo, the mayor quotes city rules that say the commission’s oversight of on- and off-street parking spaces, lots and structures is limited to policy issues, with day-to-day authority reserved for the executive branch.

At its meeting last week, the council agreed to postpone the issue indefinitely until it can be referred to a new Ordinance Review Committee that is being formed.

•••

Parking panel seeks members

The City Council is looking for as many as three residents to serve on a new Parking Committee being formed under the purview of the Transportation and Parking Commission.

The committee will examine a variety of parking-related matters facing the city, including residential parking and fee structures for street meters, long-term lots and parking garages.

Applications are available at the city’s Transportation and Parking Commission’s website, www.northamptonma.gov/tpc/.

•••

CPC funds available

The Community Preservation Committee will take applications through Friday for the first of two funding rounds this year.

Applicants are asked to complete a short project eligibility form by Friday. Once these forms are approved, full applications must be received by Feb. 5. The committee will review proposals and make funding recommendations this spring, with awards in June.

Since voters adopted the CPA in 2005, the city has awarded $9.7 million to 58 projects in the areas of open space preservation, affordable housing, recreation and historic preservation. Those applicants have used the grants to leverage another $20 million in funds from other sources.

Information and eligibility forms are available at northamptonma.gov/cpc/.

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