Easthampton City Council OKs tax rebate expansion

  • Center School, at 9 School Street in Easthampton, dates from 1902. Photo taken on Monday, May 7, 2018.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

EASTHAMPTON — With a $110 million school project up for a vote next week, the City Council has voted to expand a tax rebate for elderly, low-income homeowners and to lower the qualifying age for it.

“This will help the most vulnerable of our seniors to stay in their homes,” Councilor James “JP” Kwiecinski said.

The council voted unanimously Wednesday to increase the tax rebate from $700 to $1,000 a year. It also voted unanimously to reduce the age of eligibility age from 70 to 65.

“It wasn’t a budget deal-breaker to do this for our seniors, considering the property tax increase that’s coming up,” Councilor Daniel Rist said, prior to the votes.

The measures were approved by the Board of Assessors at its most recent meeting.

Voters Tuesday will be asked to finance a new elementary and middle school. The projected cost is $109.3 million, with $59.71 million financed through local property taxes.

According to city officials, the tax impact of the project to property owners would range from $2.98 to $3.84 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

For the average home in Easthampton valued at $228,400, that represents an annual tax increase of $680 to $877. Easthampton’s tax rate for the current fiscal year is $16 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Councilor Homar Gomez asked how many people would be helped by reducing the eligibility age, although he expressed support for the measure.

“The idea is great,” he said.

No one was able to answer the question, however. Councilor Thomas Peake said town-level data on income by age is not available.

“You run the risk of individually identifying people,” he said.

The tax rebate is enabled by a section of Massachusetts General Laws, which also locks in the qualifying income threshold, which is $29,000 a year for a household.

Prior to the discussion over the modifications to the rebate program, Peake noted that the city could adopt another section of Massachusetts General Laws, which would allow it to increase the income threshold to qualify for the rebate. However, this would require a citywide vote, which Peake said was an appropriate stipulation, as other segments of the population would have to pay for the more generous program.

Peake said such a vote could be scheduled for November 2019.

While Peake said that he is not planning on introducing such a proposal at this time, he said that he would have to revisit the matter if an alternative solution is not found by this time next year.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.